PHILADELPHIA – One Alex was all the Washington Capitals needed.
Alexander Semin’s shootout goal lifted the Capitals to a 5-4 victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday night and pulled them within one point of the first-place Flyers in the Eastern Conference.
Playing without ailing star forward Alex Ovechkin for the first time this season, the Capitals showed their resilience after wasting a 3-0 lead.
“The important part for us, is that a team came back, scores four goals and takes a lead on us. But we battled back, and obviously, we did great in the shootout,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But it was important for us to show the where-with-all to come back. When you believe you can win, you can do a lot of things.”
The Flyers maintained the edge in the East by earning a point for going into overtime. Philadelphia has two more games remaining (10-8) than the Caps.
Semin beat Brian Boucher with a nifty move and backhanded a shot into the top corner for the winner.
Ville Leino, whose shootout goal gave the Flyers a victory at Dallas on Saturday night, scored on the first shot. Matt Hendricks answered for the Capitals.
Claude Giroux was next and he couldn’t get a shot off on Michal Neuvirth. Nicklas Backstrom then beat Boucher. Danny Briere kept the Flyers alive when he scored, but Semin ended it.
“We were a little bit lucky there,” Backstrom said. “They definitely came out harder in the second and third period, and we weren’t ready for it. But both teams knew how important this game was, and we turned it around there eventually.”
Ovechkin, who leads the Capitals with 77 points, was shut down on Monday for seven to 10 days with an undisclosed injury.
For a while, it didn’t seem to matter.
Backstrom, Mike Knuble, Dennis Wideman and Marcus Johansson scored for Washington, which has won 13 of 15.
Briere, Kris Versteeg, Giroux and Andreas Nodl scored for Philadelphia, which got a poor performance from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The rookie was replaced by Boucher after allowing three goals on nine shots.
“From my standpoint, I was disappointed,” Boucher said. “I felt like I could’ve done more. Some days, you have it. Some days, you don’t.”
The Capitals have come a long way since a 2-6 stretch in mid-December dropped their record to 18-12-4. They’re 25-9-6 since Dec. 18.
Briere deflected a slap shot from Leino past Neuvirth to put Philadelphia ahead 4-3 with 5:45 left. But, Johansson beat Boucher with a one-timer from outside the left circle to tie it at 4 with 3:19 remaining.
Down 3-2 to start the third, the Flyers had a couple of solid chances to tie it, but couldn’t get a break. Then a giveaway by Capitals defenceman Jeff Schultz set up Nodl’s tying goal. Nodl was standing alone near the net when Schultz’s clearing pass bounced right to him. He lifted a shot into the top lefthand corner to make it 3-3.
The Flyers cut it to 3-1 on a fluky goal midway through the second. Versteeg’s pass intended for a streaking Nodl went through one defenceman’s legs, hit off Wideman’s skate and went in.
Andrej Meszaros just missed getting Philadelphia within one late in the second when his shot hit the post.
But Giroux sent the Flyers into the final period trailing 3-2 when he scored with 34 seconds left in the second. Giroux, standing in the left faceoff circle, took a perfect crossing pass from Nodl and fired a one-timer into a wide-open net.
The Flyers nearly tied it early in the third when Mike Richards hit the post. A few minutes later, Leino’s point-blank shot was stopped.
Backstrom gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 7:52 into the game. His slap shot from just inside the blue line hit off Bobrovsky’s pads and trickled under his left elbow.
Knuble, a former Flyer, put Washington up 2-0 late in the first. Knuble was skating toward the net and fell down as a behind-the-net pass from Jason Chimera bounced off the blade of his stick and popped up past Bobrovsky.
Wideman made it 3-0 early in the second with a power-play goal. His one-timer from the blue line deflected off Bobrovsky’s right pad and slipped in.
That was it for Bobrovsky. Fans chanted “Booooosh” as Boucher skated onto the ice. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette hasn’t committed to a playoff starter, and Bobrovsky’s effort against the Capitals could hurt his chances.
“His year has been good,” Laviolette said. “Tonight? He probably wishes he could have some of those back. We all have tough games.”
Notes: Flyers LW Jody Shelley will have surgery Thursday to repair a fractured orbital bone on the left side of his face. Shelley was injured when a puck hit his face in practice Monday. He’ll miss about four weeks. … The Capitals have two games left on their season-high six-game road trip. … Washington is 31-56-8 in Philadelphia. … Wideman has nine power-play goals, tops in the NHL among defencemen. … The Flyers haven’t beaten Washington in regulation since Feb. 24, 2009.