- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — As the second period came to a close last night at Wachovia Center, Philadelphia Flyers fans banged on the top of the tunnel the Washington Capitals players used to exit the playing surface.

Caps goalie Cristobal Huet, moments after yielding a goal to Danny Briere 9.8 seconds before the intermission, took exception to the badgering and thrust his stick in the air, hitting the bottom of the tunnel and knocking the tarp-like overhang back at the unruly patrons.

Whether it caused commotion in front of Huet or suffocated the Caps’ top line, the Flyers continued their muscular mastery in a 6-3 victory in front of 19,822 primarily orange-adorned fans.

“I felt that we tried and competed, but I don’t think we were very smart,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think we needed a lot of really good saves from Cris to keep it close because of all the mistakes we made.”

Huet allowed five goals on 32 shots, including two by Briere and a successful penalty shot for Mike Richards, as Philadelphia claimed a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Boudreau said at no point did he contemplate pulling Huet in favor of Olie Kolzig, and Huet would be in net tomorrow night for Game 4 here.

“It is very frustrating for me,” Huet said of his performance. “I felt very good, but the end result looks bad. I think I’m going to have to make some key saves at the beginning of the game if we are going to have a better chance.”

The Flyers harassed Huet for much of the night, but he wasn’t alone. Washington’s top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov was not a factor for the second straight game.

The Caps power play was 1-for-7 and ineffective for long stretches. Despite trailing by two goals after the second period and having two chances with the extra man early in the third, Washington didn’t record a shot until more than 11 minutes into the period.

Mike Green took exception to an elbow from Scottie Upshall to his defense partner Shaone Morrisonn and dropped the gloves with the Flyers’ scrappy forward, but otherwise the Caps were unable to deter Philadelphia’s physical ways.

“They’re just playing hard,” Green said. “They did run the goaltender and took a penalty. They are finishing their checks and it is creating problems for us. Until we can figure out how to fight through that, then we are going to be right where we are.”

Brooks Laich cut Philadelphia’s lead to 4-3 with 4:34 left, when he deflected Morrisonn’s shot from just above the left faceoff circle. There was an official review to see if Laich’s stick was too high or interfered with Flyers netminder Martin Biron’s glove, but it was allowed.

But after Green hauled down Richards with 2:55 left, he slipped his attempt between Huet’s legs, and then Mike Knuble added an empty-netter for good measure.

The Caps were less than four minutes from escaping a first period in which they were badly outplayed with a scoreless draw before a barrage of goals right before intermission.

After a botched breakout, Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn collected the puck to the left of his goaltender and fired a stretch pass to Vinny Prospal at the opposite blue line. He connected with Briere on a short pass, and Briere beat Caps defenseman John Erskine before snapping a shot past goaltender Huet at 16:10.

The Caps answered 71 seconds later. Donald Brashear sent a pass from behind the net to Eric Fehr in front, who one-timed a shot past Biron while being knocked down by Scott Hartnell. It was the first time in the lineup for Fehr this series in place of Tomas Fleischmann.

It also proved to be a temporary respite.

Hartnell blasted a one-timer from Prospal past Huet 65 seconds later with Briere, one of the smallest guys on the ice, providing the screen while getting tangled up with defenseman Tom Poti.

Sami Kapanen made it a two-goal advantage 17 seconds later. Milan Jurcina attempted a breakout pass from behind the net, but Jim Dowd knocked it down and left the puck for Kapanen between the circles, and he ripped a shot past Huet’s glove side.

Green notched his third of the series for the Caps to cut the lead in half. With Derian Hatcher in the penalty box for cross-checking, Green took a pass from Alexander Semin at the right point. He faked a shot and let a diving Hartnell slide past him before loading up again and firing a slap shot past Biron 7:28 into the second period.

Just as had happened in the first period, the Flyers struck before the break. Briere potted his second of the night and fourth of the series on a beautiful feed from Richards on the power play. He wound up from the right point but opted for a diagonal slap pass to Briere, who was waiting along the goal line for an easy layup with 9.8 seconds left.

“We’re talking as if we’re at our death knell,” Boudreau said. “It is 2-1 in a seven-game series. Quite conceivably it could be 3-0, but it’s not. It is 2-1 and we haven’t played our best hockey. We’re learning as a young team what it is going to take to beat these guys.

“Hopefully, we are learning very quickly.”

SEEN AND HEARD

As good as the Washington Capitals’ fans have been during the team’s run to the playoffs, they could take a cue from their counterparts in Philadelphia. Probably not the most civilized bunch in the world, but what else would you want at a hockey game?

When their team is in a lull, Flyers fans don’t sit back and wait for something to happen. They stay engaged in the game, looking for any sign their team is gaining an edge. And if nothing else, they keep themselves occupied by booing Alex Ovechkin every time he touches the puck.

The crowd at the Wachovia Center reserved one of its loudest ovations for Lauren Hart — the daughter of longtime Flyers play-by-play announcer Gene Hart — who sang a duet of “God Bless America” with a tape of Kate Smith, the late Flyers icon whose statue sits outside the team’s old arena next door.

Ben Goessling

THREE STARS

1. Danny Briere: The undersized Flyers forward continues to do whatever his team needs, trading shoves with goaltender Cristobal Huet, camping out in front of the Capitals’ net and scoring timely goals. He added two more last night, bringing his series total to four, and added an assist.

2. Mike Richards: Richards made his presence felt on both ends of the ice, finding Briere with a gorgeous slap pass for Philadelphia’s fourth goal, sharing the defensive load on Alex Ovechkin and sealing the game by drawing a penalty shot on a breakaway, which he used to score with 2:59 left and give the Flyers a two-goal lead.

3. Kimmo Timonen: The Flyers defenseman has practically rendered Alex Ovechkin a non-factor in this series. Though the Capitals forward had an assist last night, he was limited to just four shots through two periods and could find virtually no space to skate. That’s a credit to the job Timonen (and Richards) have done on him throughout the series.

BY THE NUMBERS

7 Shots the Capitals had on four power plays through the first two periods.

3 Goals Washington’s fourth line has in the series. The team has eight overall.

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