PHILADELPHIA – Alex Ovechkin was stifled, shut down and almost silent in his first NHL playoff series.
The league’s leading scorer played like an MVP right on time in Game 6. Ovechkin truly was “Alexander the Great” with the Washington Capitals’ season on the line and put them in prime position to win a Game 7 for only the second time in franchise history.
Held without a goal for four straight games, Ovechkin scored twice in the third period to lift the Capitals to a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night and send the series back to Washington for a decisive Game 7.
“The stars, it seems to happen around them, whether it’s John Elway and ‘The Drive’ or great baseball players getting the last at-bat,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. “He was getting frustrated because they did such a good job on him, but he persevered and came through.”
The Capitals have rallied back from a 3-1 hole and have a chance to win only the second Game 7 in team history Tuesday night. The other one should be painfully familiar to the Flyers faithful: Dale Hunter scored an overtime goal that led Washington past Philadelphia 20 years ago this month.
“We’ve won nothing and we know how resilient they are,” Boudreau said.
The Caps have a shot to advance on home ice thanks to Ovechkin’s timely, clutch goals. They are trying to become the 21st team in league history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a best-of-seven series.
Ovechkin never seemed overly concerned that he hadn’t scored a goal since the Game 1 winner. The Flyers had frustrated the NHL’s leading scorer so much with sticky defence that he wasn’t much of a factor the last four games.
“It doesn’t matter if I score,” Ovechkin said. “If we win, I’m happy.”
Ovechkin made the Capitals downright delirious.
After the Caps erased a 2-0 deficit late in the second period, Ovechkin made the Flyers pay early in the third.
Viktor Kozlov picked off a pass deep in the Washington zone and fed Ovechkin at centre ice. He took the pass and skated untouched before he beat Martin Biron for the breakaway goal and a 3-2 lead 2:46 into the third period.
“All year I didn’t have a chance to score on a breakaway,” Ovechkin said. “I probably had one goal on a breakaway, I did what I always do and thank God it worked.”
Ovechkin was just heating up. He ripped a one-timer on a cross-ice pass from Brooks Laich eight minutes later to give Washington a two-goal lead.
“It’s Hollywood here and the script said he wins the game,” said Caps owner Ted Leonsis.
All those Flyers fans who had taunted Ovechkin for three games suddenly fell silent. The only noise heard at the end were the Capitals banging their sticks on the boards in celebration.
“There is still another chance,” said Flyers centre Danny Briere. “We have to forget what happened and leave it all on the ice over there. We know we can win there, we did it earlier in the series. That is all we have to think about.”
The Caps will play Pittsburgh with a series win. The Flyers would get Montreal.
The Flyers won Game 2 at Washington behind Biron’s shutout.
The Flyers have lost two career playoff series after leading 3-1. They are 1-3 in Game 7s on the road, with their only win coming at Pittsburgh in a second-round series in 1989
“We just got away from our game,” said Flyers centre Mike Richards. “Now, tomorrow night’s desperation time.”
Not even the rowdy home crowd helped the Flyers. The sold-out crowd was dressed in their matching orange T-shirts and they only grew louder as goals from Briere and Richards put the Flyers up 2-0 in the second.
The Capitals, who rallied from a two-goal hole in Game 1 to win on Ovechkin’s game winner, pulled through again.
Nicklas Backstrom pulled the Caps within one with this third goal of the series midway through the second.
Alexander Semin’s third goal of the series with 1:57 left tied the score at 2. Biron was sprawled in the crease after he made a sensational save to stop John Erskine’s shot, leaving Semin with a clear look for the easy goal.
Biron, who made 36 saves, is an abysmal 0-5 in the second of back-to-back games this season.
“They played with desperation and were throwing everything at the net,” Biron said. “They skated hard and we got a little casual and I think that hurt us.”
Cristobal Huet made 33 saves for Washington, settling in to have a good night after a tough start.
The Flyers best look against him in the third came when Braydon Coburn banged one off the post barely 30 seconds into the third.
The Flyers were cruising when Briere scored his NHL-best sixth playoff goal for a 2-0 lead only 1:18 into the second. The goal made the Flyers 2-for-2 on the power play – Richards scored one 3:49 into the game – after they entered 6-for-26.
Richards’ goal was a positive sign that it could be the Flyers night: The team that scored first was 5-0 in the series.
Now make it 5-1.
Notes: Flyers D Jaroslav Modry was scratched. … Richards has a point his last four games. … Semin has a four-game scoring streak.