- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

PHILADELPHIA.

Don’t even try to make sense of it. There’s been nothing particularly logical or predictable about this wonderful Washington Capitals season. Just enjoy last night’s 4-2 no-tomorrow, series-tying victory over the Philadelphia Flyers for what it is merely one of the most memorable moments in franchise history.

Even after witnessing it first hand, you find yourself asking: Did that really happen? Did the long-cursed Caps really rally from a 2-0 deficit at always inhospitable Wachovia Center to take the teams’ first-round series to a seventh game?

Did Alex Ovechkin long quiet Alex Ovechkin really break a 2-2 tie in the last period with two goals, his first since Game 1?

And will the deciding game really be played in their own building in front of their own red-clad followers tonight, if memory serves?

The answers, of course, are yes, yes, yes and yes.

Early in the second period, the Capitals’ obituary was already being written. (Oh, me of little faith!) My particular take on it went like this:

“You can spin the Capitals’ [insert score here] loss to the Flyers last night which eliminated them from the first round of the playoffs in six games any way you like. You can say they weren’t experienced enough … or talented enough … or physical enough. Or you can say, as I’m inclined to, “Never mind all that. They weren’t smart enough.

“Brains as much as brawn (or anything else) decided this series, the Caps’ first postseason appearance in five years. And we were reminded of that, very quickly, again last night. If there was one thing Bruce Boudreau’s kiddie corps didn’t want to do in the early going, it was jump-start Philadelphia by giving it a power play. The team that had scored first, after all, had won the previous five games.

“So what happens? Matt Bradley draws a senseless interference penalty in the first three minutes, and Mike Richards makes the Caps pay for it 50 seconds later by firing home Kimmo Timonen’s missed slapper. Philly 1, Washington 0.

“It’s been fashionable to paint these proceedings as a learning experience for the young Capitals Playoff Hockey 101. And there’s a certain truth to that. But some lessons, it seems, should already have been learned, long before the puck was dropped in Game 1. Lessons such as: The importance of the early minutes of a game. Lessons such as: The importance of the last few minutes of a period, so you don’t undo anything good you might have done.

“But the Caps repeatedly violated those rules, and it absolutely killed them never more so than last night. With 38 seconds to go in the opening period, Alexander Semin took another ill-advised penalty, giving Philadelphia the man-advantage to begin Period 2. Danny Briere proceeded to beat Cristobal Huet with a shot from the left circle, putting Washington in a 2-0 hole that was largely of its own making.”

And then the game turned 180 degrees. The Capitals’ flouting of the rules, you see, cuts both ways. When you’re down two goals in a deciding game on foreign ice, no less you’re supposed to be deader than, well, Kate Smith. But the Caps, who don’t know any better, refused to cave and answered with scores by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin to pull even with 20 minutes to play.

And here was the best part: Ovechkin had yet to be heard from. (Yes, Timonen was continuing to do his David Blaine impersonation and make Alexander the Great disappear.)

It was the second time in a row the Capitals had come from behind against Flyers at Wachovia Center an impressive feat, especially considering the hostile environment. For an opponent, a hockey game in Philly is like a bullfight in Spain (with the visitor playing the part of the bull). But here the Caps were, clawing their way back, orange-clad crowd be, uh, darned.

Typically, though, the Capitals gave Philly an opening in the first minute of Period 3. They lived to tell about only because Braydon Coburn’s shot from the left circle clanged off the right post. An omen? A sign that the Caps’ luck might be running a little better on this trip to Philadelphia?

An answer was soon received. A Flyers turnover at center ice led to Viktor Kozlov feeding the long lost Ovechkin for a breakaway, and Alex whose strength, strangely, has never been shootouts skated in and beat Martin Biron to put Washington ahead 3-2 with 17:14 left.

Nothing like a three-goal rally to quiet an arena. Except maybe a four-goal rally. Ovechkin saw to the latter by rifling in a Brooks Laich pass with 9:19 to play, giving his club some welcome insurance in the event of … well, if you’re a long-suffering Capitals fan, you know what I’m talking about.

In the meantime, get me rewrite!

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