- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

The Washington Capitals played one of their better games of the season yesterday at MCI Center, rallying from a third-period deficit to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 on shootout goals by Matt Pettinger and Brian Willsie.

The victory came after the Caps had played back-to-back stinkers, losing one in overtime and another in a blowout, and coach Glen Hanlon said he had no plans to make it three straight.

“We’re going to have a low, and we had two of them, and I’m glad we responded and didn’t make it three,” he said.

The Caps are now 5-2 in shootouts, and their win over Philadelphia — the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, which had won its last six — had to be a huge confidence builder for Washington.

“That’s right up there,” goalie Olie Kolzig said. “That’s a complete 180 from the way we played the last two games … and that’s the way we need to play to give ourselves a chance to win. When we don’t play like that, not only do we not win but we embarrass ourselves. We came out hard. We came out determined. We had a couple good days of practice, and it paid off.”

Peter Forsberg put the Flyers up 1-0 in the first, but Alex Ovechkin — with a goal in each of the last five games, a personal high — tied the score by batting in his own rebound in the second. Dainius Zubrus followed to put the Caps up 2-1 with the first assist going to Ovechkin (he also has five of them in the last five games) before Philadelphia’s Sami Kapanen scored short-handed to tie the game after two periods.

Rookie Jeff Carter redirected a power-play drive early in the third for a 3-2 Flyers lead before Willsie tied the game again. After getting crunched into the rear boards, he came out and spun in midair, backhanding a Zubrus rebound past goalie Antero Niittymaki.

Overtime was scoreless — and nearly shotless.

In the shootout, Michal Handzus missed for the Flyers, but Pettinger connected into the lower right corner. Forsberg also could not get one past Kolzig, and Ovechkin missed on his shootout opportunity for just the second time in seven tries.

Then Flyers rookie Mike Richards scored, so it was up to Willsie to win it. He deked a little and shot high to the stick side for the score.

“I hadn’t had much luck around the net for the whole month of December, so it was nice to get that goal in the third,” he said. “It’s a real good feeling to get the call in a shootout, to have an opportunity to win the game.”

Notes — Two Caps players made their first appearances in Washington. With Brent Johnson injured, goalie Maxime Daigneault came from South Carolina to back up Kolzig, and center Dave Steckel was up from Hershey in case Brian Sutherby — sidelined with the flu Friday — couldn’t make it. Sutherby was fine, so Andrew Cassels was a healthy scratch to let Steckel play in his first NHL game. …

Along with Johnson, left wing Jeff Friesen (groin) was a medical scratch, while defenseman Nolan Yonkman joined Cassels as an observer. …

Mathieu Biron’s four-game point streak ended. …

The Flyers played short because of injuries, and that list got longer just before the game when leading goal-scorer (27) Simon Gagne came down with the flu. …

Atlanta Thrashers coach Bob Hartley was at the game. His team plays at MCI Center this afternoon.

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