- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

PHILADELPHIA.

This may have been the best the Washington Capitals have to offer in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And the realization may be that their best right now simply may not be good enough.

“We need to come out with our best effort and get it done,” Sergei Fedorov said before last night’s game.

They did, and they didn’t get it done, losing 4-3 in double overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers.

This young team took a big step to get here. It just may be too much to ask them to take a bigger step to play here just yet.

In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center, the Caps played tough defense and smarter offense.

They screamed, they battled and they bled.

And it still wasn’t enough to hold off Philadelphia, putting the Flyers up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

“That’s the way we can play,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Maybe two or three mistakes, more than we should have, but that’s the way our hockey team can play. I thought we deserved a better fate tonight.”

In fact, Boudreau said he thought his team outplayed the Flyers and indicated he had an issue with the officiating.

“We outplayed them. We deserved to win. A couple of bad calls went our way, a couple of missed calls. … That’s hockey.”

When he ended his postgame press conference, Boudreau said, “What no referee questions?”

Washington now faces elimination in Game 5 tomorrow at Verizon Center — their last gasp. They may be able to play better but not in this series so far. Superstar Alex Ovechkin somehow may come up with an answer for the Flyers’ tenacious defense — he has one goal in the series — but so far Philadelphia has held him in check.

These Caps played the final weeks of the regular season with their last gasp, winning 11 of their final 12 games and clinching a playoff spot in the final game of the season.

But this is playoff hockey, and while the Flyers seemed to have a grasp of it right from the start, the Caps didn’t seem to pick up on that “sense of urgency,” as Boudreau has preached until about 181 minutes into the playoff series.

It wasn’t more than a minute after Lauren Hart did her video duet on “God Bless America” with Kate Smith when the Flyers took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jeff Carter. It seemed as if the wheels were about to come off early, but the Caps — particularly their young stars — had been embarrassed so far in this series, and if they were going down, it wasn’t without a fight.

About 20 seconds after Carter’s goal, the first scuffle broke out down near the Flyers’ goal, with some unlikely Caps — Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom — throwing and shoving with the Flyers and mixing it up with the star of the series so far, Danny Briere. Soon after, Ovechkin was getting into it with Mike Richards.

“The longer a series goes on, the more dislike players build up,” said Boudreau, and by this point his players hated the Flyers and their fans like Philadelphia fans hate Santa Claus.

The blood pouring down Matt Bradley’s face in the second period showed this would not be Christmas for the Flyers.

Speaking of Santa Claus, the Caps appeared to be playing that role in the first period. Their chippiness accounted for three Flyers power plays. Yet the Caps also played Scrooge as well, killing all three penalties and playing defense around the goal with the most determination they have shown in this series to date.

Washington took advantage of its power-play opportunties, tying the game at 2:41 during a 5-3 advantage with a score by Backstrom off a pass by Ovechkin, who showed the frustration the superstar has felt this series. He had some words for the fans behind the glass near the Flyers after the goal.

The Caps scored again on a power play at 12:59 on the goal by Semin on a pass from Backstrom to take a 2-1 lead — the first lead the Caps have had in a game since Ovechkin’s Game 1 winner.

Philadelphia tied the game on another goal by Carter at 18:33 of the first period, driving it past an outstretched Huet, and it remained 2-2 going into the locker room. Steve Eminger, seeing playoff action after being scratched the last two games, would deliver the lone goal in the second period for the Capitals’ 3-2 lead, and Washington continued to play with that sense of urgency.

But it wasn’t enough to stop Briere from scoring on a Philadelphia power play at 10:01 of the third period — his fifth goal of the series — to tie the game at 3-3. It stayed that way until Philadelphia’s Mike Knuble scored at 6:40 of the second overtime, and the Caps made their way off the ice, having perhaps left their best effort there for naught.

“It is frustrating, but you somehow have to not let it get to you,” Eminger said. “You can think about it for a couple of hours, but then that’s it. This is our lives we are playing for in the next couple of games.”

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