- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

One of the members of the hockey firm of Alex and Alex decided after the Washington Capitals’ loss in Game 3 to the Philadelphia Flyers that their current business plan wasn’t working, and it was time to try a new strategy: anger.

“We became a little angrier after that game,” Alexander Semin said.

It showed in the next game, the double-overtime loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia. Semin came out battling and refusing to back down from the physical play of the Flyers. And it was evident again in the first minute yesterday at Verizon Center, when Semin was mixing it up with Scottie Upshall down near the Capitals’ goal.

But Semin was cool as, well, ice, when he circled around and blasted a shot that Flyers goalie Martin Biron never even saw as it went into the net at 14:33 of the third period for the game-winning power-play goal in a 3-2 Capitals victory that sends the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

It proved to be the key score. While Capitals fans were still wildly celebrating Semin’s goal, which put Washington on top 3-1, the Flyers came back less than a minute later to cut the lead to 3-2 on a goal by Derian Hatcher.

“It was pretty important because one thing about the Flyers is they don’t quit,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “In the third period, they really came at us. It was a real mental third period for us to have our young guys keep their composure with the effort the Flyers were giving.”

Boudreau’s young guys have transformed during this playoff series from tender to tough. It has been on-the-job training at the hands of the physical Flyers, and players like Semin seem to have learned the lessons of playoff hockey just in time.

“I think there is a big difference from the first three games to the last two,” Boudreau said. “I guess this is what they say why playoff experience is so important. I never would have thought about it on this scale, never being here. Semin, [Nicklas] Backstrom, and some of these younger guys are really playing good hockey right now.”

You could make the case that the 24-year-old Semin, in his third NHL season, is a different player than the one who took the ice for Game 1 more than a week ago.

“Semin’s game has picked up so much,” Boudreau said. “When they are both going, it’s tough to cover both of them.”

He was referring to Alex and Alex. The top billing has gone to Alex Ovechkin, with Semin sometimes referred to as the other Alex — the one the Capitals had to battle the Russian hockey powers to get over here after making him their first-round choice in 2002.

In this series, it’s Ovechkin — the superstar held to just one goal for the series — who has become the other Alex.

And Semin?

“He’s played the best hockey he has played,” Ovechkin said.

Semin also provided the key pass to Backstrom for Washington’s first goal, on a power play at 7:31 of the first period. He has two goals and four assists, and it has become clear that if the Flyers are going to spend their efforts shutting down Ovechkin, the other Alex is going to make them pay.

That’s no revelation. Semin was second on the team in goals this year, with 26, behind Ovechkin’s 65, and he missed 17 games at the start of the season. He became a force as the season went on, scoring 24 goals in his last 46 games.

“I am playing as well as I can,” Semin said through an interpreter. “I can’t say whether it is the best or not, but I am happy with how I am playing and I feel good.”

Semin acknowledged that he has learned the playoffs require a different level of intensity, in all parts of the game.

“It is a different game in the playoffs,” he said. “You simply can’t make mistakes at the blue line, and you can’t lose the puck. You have to use your chances. You cannot make any mistakes. You have to finish the team off.”

The Capitals are not finished yet. They face the daunting task of having to win in the Philadelphia madhouse at Wachovia Center in order to force a Game 7 back here in the District.

But this is a different Capitals team than the one that made the trip to Philadelphia earlier in the series. This time both members of the hockey firm of Alex and Alex are open for business.

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