The Washington Capitals
are starting to get the hang of playoff hockey. They just hope they’re not too late.
The Capitals jumped to an early lead on Saturday with the right mix of muscle and skill, and the Philadelphia Flyers waited too long to respond. The result: Washington’s 3-2 must-win Game 5 victory in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
"There's a big difference from the first three games to the last two," said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who, like many of his players, is getting his first taste of the NHL postseason. "I guess this is why they say playoff experience is so important. I never would've thought about it on this scale, never being here."
The Capitals outshot the Flyers 12-4 and outhit them 22-9 in the first period. They took a 2-0 lead early in the second before holding off a determined rally by the Flyers, who outshot Washington 21-6 in the third period.
The victory forced Game 6 in Philadelphia on Monday night. The pressure is on them now," Washington center Brooks Laich
The Flyers will be without forward Mike Knuble for Game 6. Knuble sustained a partial tear of his left hamstring late in the second period when he stumbled to the ice in a moment of indecision over whether to try to block a shot. Knuble had two goals and three assists during the series, including the game-winner score in double overtime of Game 4.
"I just kind of caught my heel and went down awkwardly," Knuble said.
The Caps showed they were going to take the physical initiative early, getting called for two roughing penalties in the first minute.
"I find they're really starting to pick up their physical play," Philadelphia forward Scottie Upshall said. "As far as I'm concerned they're getting in some pretty good shots after the whistle."
They also made the Flyers pay for a pair of first-period penalties that gave Washington a 5-on-3 power play. Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps a 1-0 lead at 7:31 when he slammed in Alexander Semin’s pass from just outside the crease.
The Caps led 1-0 after the first period — the first time in the series they’ve been ahead after the opening 20 minutes — and quickly doubled their lead 1:25 into the second when Sergei Fedorov beat Martin Biron with a backhander on a feed from Viktor Kozlov, who worked hard to win the puck in the corner.
The Flyers cut the margin to 2-1 at 12:35 after Fedorov's holding penalty gave Philadelphia a 5-on-3 power play. Vaclav Prospal scored his third goal of the series on the final second of the two-man advantage.
The goal energized the Flyers, who had the better of the play over the second half of the game. But with Scott Hartnell in the penalty box for hooking, Semin's power-play goal, a screened wrist shot from the high slot, gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead with 5:27 remaining. Derian Hatcher made it a one-goal game again just 44 seconds later, but the Flyers couldn't get the equalizer.
The Caps stayed alive despite the continuing lack of productivity from Alex Ovechkin, who had an NHL-best 65 goals during the regular season but has just one — the winner in Game 1 — in his first five playoff games. He had six shots on goal in Game 5 after getting just 13 in the first four games combined.
"My goals are coming," Ovechkin said. "I don't care if I don't score and we win. If I play one minute in a game and we win the game, it will be a good result."
The Flyers say they won’t be caught short at the start of the game on Monday night.
"They really came at us hard," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "To me, that's a lesson we learned that won't happen again. We've got to come out and we've got to initiate."
Material from wire services and team online media was used in this report.