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Photo: Elsa

At first, it all went according to plan. The house lights went down at exactly 7 PM. The arena lit up in a sea of orange and white lights glimmering off commemorative wristbands. A tribute to the recently deceased Ed Snider, who founded the Flyers in 1967 and had owned the team ever since, played on the big screen. All of Wells Fargo Center, from the seating bowl to the benches to the press box, applauded a great owner. Then Kate Smith and Lauren Hart sang their trademark “God Bless America” duet. Within a minute of puck drop, the Flyers had the first goal, wildly sliding into the boards in celebration. The roar from the fans was booming. This was their night for their owner.

“Ed was a dynamic visionary who turned Philadelphia into one of the great hockey towns in the world,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said before the game in a heartfelt press conference. “He believed in excellence — and in this team, the Flyers.”

But in the end, that team let him down.

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Photo: @MonSportsNet

Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers will play their first game at Wells Fargo Center since their owner and founder Ed Snider died last week at the age of 83. Snider was not a moneyman who remained distant from the team he owned. He knew his players personally, he was outspoken, and he was a legend in Philadelphia sports.

Before Game Three, Snider will be honored with a tribute video while fans will be lit up with orange wristbands. His initials are painted behind both nets. Snider was a man who touched many Flyers players and fans deeply, including some who now play for the Washington Capitals. Home ice advantage can be overstated. The opening minutes of Game Three, however, promise to emotional and deafening.

“The last week was a little tough,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Monday’s morning skate. “I think it was tough on a lot of people, and that includes the organization, everybody that was ever involved with the Flyers. I think ex-players that have a relationship with Mr. Snider, I think it’s going to be pretty emotional.”

But, Giroux added, “We’re here to win a hockey game.”

So are the Capitals. Washington is looking to go up 3-0 in a best of seven playoffs series for the first time in team history.

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Photo: Rob Carr

The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.

“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.

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Photo: Rob Carr

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is stopping pucks this postseason at a rate of 98.4 percent. On the other side of the ice, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason is saving just 88.9 percent of shots on net. In Game Two of the first round on Saturday, Holtby turned aside all but one of Philly’s 42 shots. Despite the Capitals getting heavily outplayed at even-strength, they won 4-1.

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Photo: Rob Carr

Steve Mason knew the questions were coming. He did not hide from them. For him, the only way out of one of the most embarrassing moments of his life was through it.

“I messed up,” Mason told reporters after a 4-1 loss in Game Two of the first round against the Washington Capitals.

Less than two and a half minutes into the second period, Mason allowed a rolling ground ball to pass through his legs. Mason had made an impressive save a minute earlier, possibly tweaking a muscle, but he denied that played any part in what happened next: a puck deflected by Jason Chimera at the redline that slid into the back of the net with Mason frozen in place.

“It’s my fault and I realize that,” Mason said.

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GameOneKuznetsovPatrickSmith

Photo: Patrick Smith

This season, the Washington Capitals blocked just under 1,000 shots in 82 regular-season games. That averages out to about a dozen a game. In Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Caps got in the way of 23 shots. The usual suspects of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner did much of the work. But so did skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

“Not even pain,” Kuznetsov said when a reporter asked him about a key shot he absorbed. ”I fake it.”

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Photo: Patrick Smith

Wednesday morning, Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner was asked about the defensive pairing of Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov. They were both set to make their NHL playoff debuts in Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers. He paused halfway through his answer.

“You know, I’m just thinking, laughing in my head about Schmitty,” Alzner said. “He’s always so excited for a regular season game, I can’t imagine what he’s gonna be like for a playoff game. It’ll be fun.”

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Richards during Thursday’s morning skate. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

In Game One, a late game boarding penalty by Tom Wilson almost ended in disaster for Washington. If the Flyers had not retaliated, they would have had their seventh man-advantage of the game with a chance to tie the game. Wilson, however, also showed restraint against the Flyers, a team that has had price on his head ever since his rookie season.

“I think Willy has done a really good job the last little while of being disciplined and backing off any hits,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game.

Wilson moderation came earlier in the game when Brayden Schenn, who Wilson infamously charged three seasons ago, delivered at hard hit on Mike Richards. Wilson briefly considered engaging in vigilantism until Richards stepped in.

“You do what you have to do,” Richards said of the incident. “Willy’s a really high energetic player. That’s the way you want to see him play. He wants to stick up for his teammates, but at the same time you have to understand the situation.”

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Photo: Patrick Smith

Tom Wilson almost made it through a Caps-Flyers game without getting involved in something foolish. But with six minutes and 51 seconds left in a one goal playoff hockey game, Wilson decided to board defenseman Andrew McDonald. It was an obvious penalty.

Thankfully for Wilson, Wayne Simmonds, who led the Flyers in regular season goals (32), decided a late game comeback push was the perfect time to retaliate. Simmonds took a roughing penalty before he and Wilson decided to punch each other in the face, negating any advantage for Philly when they needed it most.

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Sweet Fifteen: Caps Blank Flyers 2-0 in Game One

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Just before four AM this morning, I pulled myself from bed, took my medication, and crawled back upstairs. But I never went back to sleep. Playoff hockey is here. Time to grab the wine. Things are about to get real.

After a sluggish start, John Carlson opened the scoring with a blast from the point. Naturally, there were 38 minutes of penalties, but skill won out in the end — especially after Jay Beagle’s late third-period insurance goal. Caps blank Flyers 2-0! One-nil series lead.

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