- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 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 it really happen? Did the long-cursed Caps really rally from a 2-0 deficit — at always inhospitable Wachovia Center, no less — to take this first-round series to a seventh game?

Did Alex Ovechkin — quiet as a fourth-line winger before now — 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 the Capitals’ own building in front of their own red-clad followers — tonight, if memory serves?

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

To think that early in the second period, the Caps’ obituary was already being written. (Oh, me of little faith!) They were down by two at this point, looking all but out on their feet, and so I typed:

You can spin the Capitals’ 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.

I’ll spare you the rest of my dead-wrong ramblings and insert a quote here by Matt Cooke. “We were actually a little bit tentative [at the start],” he said. “We didn’t play as well early as we did in Saturday’s [3-2 win]. They changed it up a bit on their power play, put a guy in the middle instead of trying to get the puck to [Danny] Briere backdoor.”

To the Capitals’ dismay, the ploy worked twice. But then the game turned 180 degrees. Their flouting of conventional wisdom, you see — in particular, their insistence on playing catch-up — cuts both ways. When you’re down two goals in a win-or-go-golfing game — a win-or-go-golfing game on the road — you’re supposed to be deader than 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. (Or to put it another way, Timonen was continuing to do his David Blaine impersonation and make the 65-Goal Man disappear.)

It was the second time in a row the Capitals had come from behind against the Flyers at Wachovia Center — an impressive feat, especially considering the 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.

“The intensity in this building …” Boyd Gordon said, his voice trailing off. “It’s just so tough to play here. We knew we were going to have to throw everything at ‘em. But we’re used to battling. We had to battle just to get in the playoffs — and we had to battle to get back in this series [after losing three of the first four].”

Typically, though, the Capitals gave Philly an opening in the first minute of Period 3. They lived to tell about it only because Braydon Coburn’s shot from the left circle clanged off the right post. An omen? A sign the Caps’ luck might be running a little better on this second 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 on the power play with 9:19 remaining, 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.

“It was amazing to see,” said Sergei Fedorov, who helped set up the last score. “We found a way to score a couple of goals [in the third period] and win it in regulation.”

Or rather, Alexander the Great did — which is where the “Great” comes from. Fedorov knew his countryman was suffering, knew he was studying, over and over again, every shot he had taken in the series and asking himself: Why didn’t I score on that play? Or: Why did the puck bounce over my stick?

“It wasn’t frustration,” Fedorov said, “it was more concern. He was thinking: Maybe I should have done better.”

Last night Ovechkin did a lot better. Last night, the sleeping giant awakened. Flyers beware.

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