Photo: Patrick Smith
Inside the cramped visitor’s locker room at Verizon Center, players, media, and staff played bumper cars, attempting — and sometimes failing — to dodge skates, equipment, and each other. “Oh, sorry,” one player said as he bumped me into a television camera.
“It’s not one of the better visiting locker rooms in the league, but maybe they try to do that for a reason,” former Capitals forward Eric Fehr said.
The room may be the size of a large walk-in closet, but there was another reason for the tight arrangements. The Capitals-Penguins series is the most high profile of the second round. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will meet in the playoffs for first time since the 2009 semifinals, an epic series that featured a game with dueling hat tricks and a heartbreaking blowout loss for the Capitals in Game Seven. The media list for Thursday night’s Game One spanned three pages, with large camera crews trucking down from the Great White North.
Photo: Derek Leung
Eric Fehr and Mike Green both wanted to stay in Washington and win a Stanley Cup — it just didn’t work out that way. They had played their entire 10-year careers with the Caps, save for one year Fehr spent with the Jets. But with restricted free agents like Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson to lock up, plus the offseason acquisitions of Justin Williams and TJ Oshie, Fehr knew it would be tough to stay.
Photo: Patrick McDermott
In Game Five, the Philadelphia Flyers had the fewest shots they’ve ever had in a game. But they won. The Washington Capitals, at one point up 3-0 in the series, are now heading to Philly, where the Flyers have a chance Sunday to force a Game Seven. This is the second time the Flyers have won two games in a row after being down 3-0. The last time, against the Bruins in 2010, they won the next two as well, becoming the third team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.
Washington has a playoff pedigree as well. It involves losing in painful ways. It’s on everyone’s minds. But the Capitals want none of it. Here’s what they said after dropping Game Five.
Photo: Rob Carr
After Monday night’s anarchic attempt at a hockey game, the Washington Capitals held a 3-0 series lead. In 180 minutes of hockey, the Philadelphia Flyers took 96 PIMs. Washington’s power play was eight for 17. The Caps, it seemed, were in for a long layover before facing the winner of the Rangers-Penguins series.
“Everything they’ve gotten to a point we’ve given them,” Wayne Simmonds said in the minutes after Game Three ended. “We’ve got to stay out of the box.”
The Flyers have done that the last two games, reducing Washington to five power plays in Games Four and Five. Without that boost, the Caps fell when the series shifted back to Verizon Center Friday night. They outshot the Flyers 44-11 — shot attempts were 82-27 — but lost the special teams battle. Philadelphia had six power plays while Washington’s deadly man-advantage unit was limited to three.
“We were in the box a lot,” Tom Wilson, who did not receive any infractions, said. “Yeah, we had a lot of shots, but we have to do a better job of getting to the interior and staying out of the box. If we play 60 minutes five-on-five, I don’t think you see that team standing up by the end of it.”
Photo: Matt Slocum
Late in the third period of Game Three, Flyers forward Pierre-Édouard Bellemare delivered a reckless hit on Dmitry Orlov, driving the Capitals defenseman’s head into the end boards. He was assessed a five minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct with a disciplinary hearing scheduled for Tuesday. In the evening, the NHL delivered its verdict.
Brandon Manning skates around debris on the ice during Game Three (Photo: Elsa)
Wristbands have now taken their place among snowballs and batteries in the infamy of Philadelphia sports. During Monday night’s in Game Three of the first round against the Washington Capitals, Flyers fans melted down, taking off the light-up contraptions given to them before the game and hurling them onto the ice after their team took 35 penalty minutes on one play. The Flyers received another two PIMs later in the game because fans would not stop throwing their LED bracelets, despite an admonishment from public address announcer Lou Nolan on a night with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance.
Sarena Snider, the daughter of Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider who died last week at 83, tweeted that her dad “would’ve called the wristband throwers a ‘disgrace.’”
It was curious, then, that pallets of wristbands labeled “Game 2” appeared on the event floor of Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, the day before the Flyers are set to play their second home game of the series.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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