PHILADELPHIA | The Washington Capitals had it. They built a two-goal lead in the kind of fashion that usually leads to two points, scoring twice on the power play in the third period.
Coach Adam Oates knew his team put itself in a “great position,” but in coughing up the lead and losing 5-4 in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night, the Caps made their climb that much more difficult.
“We can’t give that game up if we want to give ourselves the best chance possible to be in the playoffs,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “If you win these games, you deserve to be in the playoffs. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
It shouldn’t have happened once the Caps turned a double-minor penalty on Flyers winger Jake Voracek in a tie game into a two-goal lead. Steve Oleksy hit Claude Giroux and Voracek picked up penalties for jumping the defenseman, and Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin made the Flyers pay.
“They protected their player,” Oates said. “Our power play scored two goals, what you’re supposed to do there, and it put us in a good position.”
It was exactly where the Caps wanted to be, but it was also the reverse of where they were 24 hours earlier against the Buffalo Sabres. They knew what to expect.
“It’s that time of the year, everyone’s in desperation mode,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Whether you’re up whether you’re down, usually when you’re down you’re pressing a little bit harder trying to get back into it.”
Brouwer’s holding penalty in the offensive zone led to Giroux’s power-play goal, but the Flyers didn’t tie it until Kimmo Timonen scored with 9.5 seconds left. Holtby never saw it, but given the momentum Washington let get away, it wasn’t hard to see that coming.
In getting to overtime, the Caps picked up a point to move to 34 on the season. They’re one point back of the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and four back of the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets.
While Ovechkin said about the loss, “it’s hard, but we get the point,” Brouwer had a bit of a different view after Ruslan Fedotenko scored in overtime.
“It hurts. We’re treating it like we gave away two points,” Brouwer said. “I know we got one out of this but we had them in a good position to win outright, get two points and move up in the standings. Them getting two points and us only getting one that’s a complete – it just shouldn’t happen.”
With a day off Monday, players and coaches will have some time to think. What the Caps can learn from Sunday night’s debacle includes learning how to handle similar situations in the near future.
“Playing it out and finding a way to win,” defenseman Mike Green said. “We kind of got a little lackadaisical there at the end, sat back on our heels and they were coming full throttle. You can’t play like that.”
Holtby said the Caps went into too much of a “defensive shell.” They tried protecting the lead but let it evaporate instead.