The Washington Capitals may be resting their superstar, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on taking top spot in the Eastern Conference.
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 East.
Playing without ailing star forward Alex Ovechkin for the first time this season, the Capitals showed their resilience after wasting a 3-0 lead. Ovechkin, who leads the Capitals with 77 points, was shut down on Monday for seven to 10 days with what Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau calls a “nagging injury.”
“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,” 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 than the Capitals.
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Toronto 3 Minnesota 0; Buffalo 2 Montreal 0; Carolina 4 Ottawa 3; Nashville 3 Edmonton 1; New York Rangers 1 Florida 0; Boston 4 New Jersey 1; New York Islanders 5 Tampa Bay 2; Colorado 5 Columbus 4 (SO); and Phoenix 2 St. Louis 1.
At Philadelphia, 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.”
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.”
At St. Paul, Minn., rookie goaltender James Reimer made 29 saves for his third career shutout Tuesday as Toronto beat Minnesota, stretching the Wild’s winless streak to seven games.
At Montreal, Ryan Miller made 31 saves for his fourth shutout and Nathan Gerbe scored twice as Buffalo solidified its hold on eighth place in the East with a win over the Canadiens.
At Raliegh, N.C., Chad LaRose scored two goals and Cam Ward made 36 saves to lead Carolina past Ottawa.
At Nashville, Tenn., David Legwand scored a goal and added an assist as the Predators beat Edmonton.
At New York, Brandon Dubinsky broke up a scoreless game 7:49 into the third period and Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves as the Rangers used defence to beat Florida and stretch their winning streak to a season-high five games.
At Boston, Zdeno Chara broke a tie midway through the second period and Milan Lucic scored his 30th goal of the season late in the third as the Bruins beat New Jersey.
At Tampa,Fla., Al Montoya made 36 saves, helping the New York Islanders to a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
At Denver, Milan Hejduk scored the only goal in the shootout and Colorado rallied late in regulation to pull out a win against Columbus.
At Glendale, Ariz., Lauri Korpikoski had a goal and an assist, Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 29 shots and Phoenix rallied after a sluggish start to beat St. Louis.