- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PHILADELPHIA. — One more loss, and the Washington Capitals will have the Philadelphia Flyers right where they want them.

It seems these young hotshot Capitals can’t win unless they have to, as they did in the final weeks of the regular season, when they won 11 of their final 12 games to clinch a playoff spot.

“I think the best thing for us is that we haven’t played our best game yet,” said Eric Fehr, who scored one of the Capitals three goals last night.

They must be saving it for when they need it.

The Capitals aren’t playing with the sense of urgency their coach, Bruce Boudreau, begged them to play with — unless, indeed, there is some urgency.

The Flyers have played as if they knew the meaning of all the banners that hang from the rafters of Wachovia Center, spelling out the pride and tradition of Philadelphia hockey.

Boudreau gave his team its marching orders in a meeting on Monday at Ketter Capitals Iceplex, one day after the Caps’ 2-0 loss at Verizon Center that evened the series at one game each.

“You win battles,” Boudreau said. “You are more determined. That’s what they [the Flyers] were. We’ve got to fight through stuff.”

But when the puck dropped last night before a frenzied Flyers crowd, the Capitals picked up right where they left off in their less-than—inspirational Game 2 performance. They failed to capitalize on two early power plays and there was little evidence of the plan going into last night — more hard work in front of the net and less flashy perimeter action.

Now, the question will be: What can the Capitals do tomorrow night to even the series before it goes back to the District on Saturday for Game 5. Cristobal Huet had been the hot goalie during Washington’s run for the playoffs, but he has taken a beating in this series, though he is getting little help on defense. Last night the Capitals were outshot 33-19.

Don’t expect to see franchise icon Olie Kolzig in goal tomorrow night, though. Boudreau said after last night’s loss that he’ll stay with Huet.

Something, though, needs to happen to get the message to the young Capitals.

It’s not a complicated message. “Just drive to the net, shoot the puck and get some rebounds,” Boudreau said after this latest loss. “It’s been like that since the beginning of time.”

Early in the first period, shooters like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin floated around the outside, passing off to each other, 15 feet from the goal, with no one parking themselves anywhere close to goalie Martin Biron. On the other side of the ice, you would have thought there were two goaltenders — Huet and Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell or whatever other Flyers player was in front of the net.

Yet despite the failed lessons learned, the Capitals nearly got out of it unscathed — a scoreless period until 16:10, when Danny Briere, the star of this series so far, got one past Huet for a 1-0 Flyers lead.

Even then, just a little more than a minute later, Washington managed to tie it, thanks to the two players who executed the style of play the team so desperately needed throughout its star-studded young lineup. Donald Brashear was working behind the Flyers net against the boards to get the puck, and he got it to Eric Fehr, who was battling for space in front of the Flyers net and slapped it in for the score.

The Caps should be thankful for Brashear, who also scored the team’s first goal in their 5-4 win over Philadelphia in Game 1. And Fehr was in there on a call by Boudreau, replacing Tomas Fleischmann.

“Bigger and stronger, pretty well that’s it,” Boudreau said of the decision to insert Fehr for Fleischmann. “They are a pretty physical team. [Fehr] is pretty strong and pretty good along the boards.”

There wasn’t enough big and strong, though, to stop the Flyers from taking the game over, scoring two goals in the last two minutes of the period in a 17-second span. All the Capitals could hope for then was to get back to the locker room down 3-1 before any more damage was done and find out why they were playing as poorly as they did in Game 2.

There was more evidence of trying to work closer to the net in the second period. Mike Green scored his third goal of the playoffs on a power play at 7:28 to cut the deficit to 3-2. And Ovechkin and Sergei Fedorov were more of a presence around the Flyers’ goal. But it failed to lead to a score, and Philadelphia took a 4-2 lead on a power-play goal by Briere, his fourth of the series, with just 10 seconds left in the period.

Washington scored early in the third period on a shot by Laich, but there was never a sense the game had changed. The Flyers iced it on a penalty shot score by Mike Richards with about three minutes left in the game, and then added the embarrassment of an empty net score by Mike Knuble after the Capitals pulled Huet with less than two minutes left.

The Capitals are down 2-1 in the series, and still have yet to learn this lesson about playoff hockey — that every game is urgent.

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