The sellout crowd at Verizon Center rose to a roar in the final seconds of the Washington Capitals’ 2-0 playoff win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. It was so loud that Karl Alzner wasn’t sure the buzzer sounded, but after he saw Braden Holtby save one final shot, the Capitals defenseman figured it did and relaxed.
With 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock, Flyers right wing Brayden Schenn unleashed a furious hit that sent Alzner spiraling into the boards. As Schenn was pulled away by an official, the two teams tussled along the boards, their emotions surging as the game finally came to a close.
“Once the puck hit Holts, I wasn’t expecting it,” Alzner said after Friday’s practice. “But it was fine, not like it was from behind and into the boards. It was a pretty clean hit from what I saw. I had no issue. He just caught me off balance.
“Playoff games go like that a lot. One team is down at the end of the game, you try to just get a little bit more edge to your game and try to send a message for the next one. I don’t know who it benefits more, both teams get fired up like that. Perhaps it’s down the middle.”
While the intensity slowly increased in Game 1 and reached a climax at the final buzzer, it’s important for the Capitals to clear their heads and refocus before the start of Game 2 on Saturday night. That process already began at Friday’s practice, where any thoughts about Schenn’s hit only surfaced once layers were asked about it.
“Obviously, they’re not going to be happy we won the game 2-0,” center Jay Beagle said. “At the end of the game, they’re trying to send a message and get the momentum their way. That’s playoff hockey. You have to reset no matter what happens. If we lose, we win, it’s a new game. Last game doesn’t matter. It’s not going to help going into the next game. You’ve got to hit the reset button.”
Schenn was flying around the ice all game. Midway through the third period, he launched himself at Capitals center Mike Richards and delivered a crushing hit along the boards. Tom Wilson was there quickly to defend Richards, but the veteran pulled his teammate back.
In the playoffs, it’s important to exercise discipline in these types of situations which is why Richards pulled him back.
“I kind of looked over and saw his feet were 10 feet off the ice so I went over, put my hand on his chest and he went down like a sack of potatoes,” Wilson said. “That’s why the ref didn’t blow the whistle or anything, he was trying to draw a penalty in that situation. Give him credit, he was launching himself into everybody last night, but you’re supposed to keep your skates on the ice. That’s why I was a little upset, but Richie yelled at me, said, ‘I’m good, you’re good, let’s stay away.’ I have to realize the time of the game. Just let them know we’re not happy and skate away.”
Midway through the second period, Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin leveled center Sean Couturier, who was injured on the play and could miss the rest of the series, according to reports. Twenty seconds after the hit, Ovechkin rang a shot off the post.
Following the hit, the Capitals kept pressing in the Flyers’ zone. Were they energized by the play?
“I can’t really answer that, I’m not that smart,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “It probably didn’t hurt because I know Sean is a quality hockey player and [is] relied on by the Flyers to be their stopper guy.”
Then there was Wilson’s hit on Andrew MacDonald, a boarding penalty that led to a spirited bout with Wayne Simmonds. Such hits won’t stand out to players during Game 2, especially Schenn’s on Alzner at the end of the game.
However, there is an expectation that the intensity will linger. After all, that’s what the playoffs are about and Washington does not expect to back down.
“It’s the playoffs, every check matters and kudos to [Schenn] for playing to the buzzer, but we’re going to stick up for each other,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of an unwritten rule you’re down two goals you don’t run a guy with .1 seconds left on the clock. We’re just going to forget about it and if we stay composed and play our game, we don’t have to worry about it.”