PHILADELPHIA – Mike Knuble needed nearly 90 minutes to deliver Philadelphia’s biggest goal of the playoffs. Not much of a wait considering he took 11 years to score the most thrilling one of his career.
“It was by far my biggest one,” Knuble said. Knuble poked in his second goal of the series 6:40 into the second OT to give Philadelphia a dramatic 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night and a 3-1 series lead.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to score in this town and hear the building go nuts,” Knuble said. “You pinch yourself. You can’t believe it’s happening.”
Believe it, Mike.
The Flyers, the worst team in the NHL last season, can finish off the Caps in Game 5 on Saturday in Washington.
Danny Briere saved the game again with a tying goal midway through regulation and Jeff Carter scored twice for the Flyers.
“I thought the game got more and more exciting,” Briere said. “A lot more chances were being created in overtime.”
None bigger than the one Knuble took advantage of to stun the Caps. He ended the first double overtime playoff game at the Wachovia Center when he found the puck near the front of the net and quickly poked in a rebound past Cristobal Huet.
“Bing-bang, a rebound and goal,” Huet said.
Knuble was mobbed by his teammates while the standing, frantic fans howled in celebration.
“It popped right to my forehand, and I was able to chip it up,” Knuble said.
The Caps have dropped three straight in the series and it could be the end for them if leading scorer Alex Ovechkin can’t start finding the back of the net. Ovechkin, who scored 65 goals this season, scored his only playoff goal in Game 1 and had only two assists in Game 4.
“It’s not over yet,” Ovechkin said.
Neither team showed signs of exhaustion in the first OT, with Huet and counterpart Martin Biron facing good, hard shots almost each time the puck was in the attack zone. Overtime was played at a frenetic pace and each team took 11 shots, almost all of them causing gasps from the crowd.
The Flyers had a power play late in regulation and attacked Huet for all two minutes, but came up empty. Huet, who was fantastic in Washington’s stretch run just to make the playoffs, made a few spectacular saves that helped send the game into OT.
“You take it home and have to take care of business there,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They counted us out after Game 2. They counted us out after Game 3. I’m sure they’ll count us out now. When they had to win seven in a row, they did it so don’t count us out.”
Huet, who had 42 saves, couldn’t stop Briere earlier in the period.
The Flyers tied it at 3 midway through the third on their only power-play goal of the game (1-for-7) when the Capitals were whistled for too many men on the ice.
Mike Richards had the puck in the far corner, skated out, saw Briere alone on the far side and made a perfect pass. Briere took the puck below the goal line, saw he had a moment to gather it and slammed in the tying goal.
Briere scored his 18th career playoff goal and fifth in this series.
Ovechkin, who had centre Sergei Fedorov moved to his line, misfired on the open net only minutes earlier.
The Capitals’ first shot of the third, nearly 6 minutes in, made 3-2. The Flyers could not clear the puck out of the zone, and Steve Eminger made them pay when he flipped the puck past Biron.
Biron stopped 38 shots.
“He was rock solid again,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “He made the saves he had to make to keep us in the game.”
When Carter scored his first goal only 42 seconds into the game, the diehards erupted in jubilation and it seemed like the Flyers would be able to ride that emotional boost for at least the rest of the period.
Instead, Washington came out swinging.
The Caps were hardly rattled by the early goal and they initiated some physical play early. Tempers quickly flared, with pushing, shoving and punching in the corners, and Briere and Alexander Semin each sent to the penalty box.
Briere was whistled for holding and roughing, and the double-minor cost the Flyers when Ovechkin centred Nicklas Backstrom for the power-play goal that tied the score at 1.
Boudreau tinkered with his line combinations the last two days, both at even strength and on the power play, hoping to find the right on that would finally generate some early offence.
The Capitals were 2-for-16 on the power play the first three games, but made it 2-for-2 in the first period to go ahead 2-1.
Briere (slashing) and Derian Hatcher (slashing) were in the box and Washington had 13 seconds of a two-man advantage, all the time that was needed for Semin to beat Biron upstairs from the far circle with 7:01 left.
Carter tied it at 2 with 1:27 left on his third goal of the playoffs. The Scottie Upshall-Carter-Knuble line had three goals and four assists.
Now the series moves back to Washington, where the two games were split.
“We know we can win there,” Briere said.
Notes: Former Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale was at the game. … Capitals D Jeff Schultz, who was hurt in Game 3, was scratched. … The Flyers played their first overtime home playoff game since May 20, 2004 against Tampa Bay.