- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

Since the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers first met Nov. 11, 1974, this has been a series only a masochist could love. The Flyers had won 90 of the 167 games played entering the season.

But this season is different. The Flyers — who play the Capitals tonight at Verizon Center — find themselves in last place, not only in the Atlantic Division but in the entire league with 11 wins and 26 points. And for the first time in the 33-year history of the rivalry, the Caps have the opportunity to sweep a season series from Philadelphia. The Caps are 3-0 against the Flyers this season and should be favored tonight based on each team’s recent performances.

Washington has won two in a row after a five-game losing streak. Philadelphia, which was routed at Ottawa 6-1 on Sunday, has lost three in a row.

“It’s almost like the way we play, we don’t belong in the league,” right wing Sami Kapanen told the Bucks County Courier-Times. “That’s how bad it is right now. It’s disappointing and embarrassing. Everybody is unhappy, disappointed.”

John Stevens, the Flyers’ second coach this season, made no attempt to defend his struggling club.

“Soon as it got tough, we certainly didn’t answer the challenge,” he said.

“At this point we just have got to perform on the ice,” Flyers forward Mike Knuble said. “To keep saying things is just irrelevant. Do you think there is a magic word or something to say?”

If there was, the Caps might have tried it three decades ago. Including this season, the Caps have won the season series only 10 times. Philadelphia has swept Washington four times, and in 1998-99 Washington scored just three goals in losing four games.

Even in years when the Caps were good, they had problems with the Flyers. In 1998, the year Washington went to the Stanley Cup, the Caps only managed a 2-2-1 mark against the Flyers. In the 1985-86 regular season, the Caps’ best with 50 wins and 107 points, they lost five of seven games to the Flyers.

The playoffs have been a slightly different story. There have been three postseason series between the two teams, with the Caps winning two of them. One of the series victories was noteworthy and remains satisfying for long-suffering Caps fans.

In 1988, the Flyers took a 3-1 series lead in a first-round playoff matchup. The Caps stormed back to tie the series at 3-3, and in overtime of Game 7, Washington’s Dale Hunter scored to complete the upset.

Notes — The Caps tonight will honor the 2006 Hershey Bears, the reigning American Hockey League Calder Cup champions. Several players who earned rings last summer now play for the Caps. …

Left wing Matt Bradley will be back in the lineup tonight for the first time since Dec. 9 when he broke a finger in a fight against the Flyers. The digit was slow to heal and finally was operated on. A pin was inserted, and that was removed Sunday. He has been granted medical clearance to play.

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