- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2016

It wasn’t for a lack of trying.

The numbers on Friday night were head-scratching: The Washington Capitals took 34 more shots on goal than the Philadelphia Flyers, 29 of which were at even strength, and attempted 55 additional shots. Philadelphia, which took just two shots on goal in the second period, finished with 11 on the night — the fewest in a game in franchise history.

Yet, there it was, glaring on the video board hanging above center ice at Verizon Center: Flyers 2, Capitals 0.

“There’s only one stat that matters at the end of the night, and it’s the one that’s on the scoreboard,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

The Capitals wanted intensity and aggression in Game 5 — and they got it. What they didn’t get, though, was the victory, prolonging their first-round playoff series against the Flyers by another game and at least two days.

Michal Neuvirth, the longtime Capitals goaltender making his second start of the series, finished with 44 saves — his second-highest total of the season. He was unassailable, unflappable, making a number of stops on shots taken from all angles and distances.

SEE ALSO: After goaltender Michal Neuvirth steals victory, Flyers eager to be better

The closest the Capitals would get to finding the back of the net turned out to be in the end of the second period, when left wing Jason Chimera spent five seconds lying in it after taking a hit from the Flyers‘ Nick Schultz.

“We outshot them the first two games and we lost, so I’ll take it this way,” Flyers left wing Jakub Voracek said. “I’d rather have five shots and win the game than having [freaking] 40 shots and lose.”

The Capitals moseyed through Game 4 of the series on Wednesday, waking up only to pepper Neuvirth with a number of shots during the third period. That effort resulted in one goal just minutes in, allowing the team to think that if it could sustain such an effort for an entire game, advancing to the next round would be fairly simple.

Instead, Neuvirth put an end to what many players considered to be their most complete game of the series — and now, as it shifts back to Philadelphia, a team that has been haunted by a number of spectacular playoff collapses will be challenged to avoid another.

“We came hard the entire game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We didn’t take our foot off at all. We’re happy with the effort, but not happy that we couldn’t find the net.”

With so much of Game 4 played at even strength, the Capitals‘ thinking followed relatively sound logic: A team that was so successful in five-on-five play during the regular season should have no problem overwhelming its opponent.

Washington, though, hampered its effort early, muting the emotional edge gained by T.J. Oshie’s retaliatory fight with Brayden Schenn just 10 seconds into the game. The Capitals objected to a number of perceived cheap shots during the previous four games of the series — the most notable by Schenn on Evgeny Kuznetsov on Wednesday — and Oshie decided he’d try to punish Schenn immediately.

Less than a minute later, though, Justin Williams was called for a double-minor for high-sticking. Six penalties would be called in the opening period, in addition to the majors handed out for fighting, and although the Capitals had already built a 14-6 edge in shots on goal, their plan was already off the rails.

“We can’t go to the penalty box. I’ll look at all six of our penalties, but I think that we probably deserved every one of them,” Trotz said. “That’s crazy. I mean, we can’t do that. We can’t be undisciplined. We were the more disciplined team, I thought, early in this series, and this game, we weren’t.”

Braden Holtby only allowed one goal, with an apparent attempted pass by the Flyers‘ Ryan White deflecting off the inside of Capitals defenseman Taylor Chorney’s left skate and into an open net at 7:52 of the second period. The insurance goal was an empty-netter by Chris VandeVelde at 19:29 of the third.

Whereas the Capitals seemed to take Wednesday’s loss lightly, acknowledging they’d have three more chances to win a game and advance, players’ emotions on Friday were wrung with irritation and resolution.

They had given a solid effort and were foiled. What if they do it again?

“I think if we come out exactly like we did tonight, we play like we did tonight, we put another 43 pucks on [ne] and we play with the tenacity that we did tonight, we’ll be all right,” right wing Tom Wilson said.

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