Danny Briere celebrated his 32nd birthday with a game winning goal in overtime, and gave the Philadelphia Flyers a 6-5 win over the Washington Capitals. The Flyers’ home opener looked like it might be a pretty conservative affair after a scoreless first period, but seven goals in the second frame turned it into a barn burner.
Mike Richards opened the scoring for Philadelphia on the power play; he parked himself off to the left of the net, deep in the zone, and defenseman Matt Carle picked him out with a diagonal pass through the Caps zone. Richards fired the puck into the net from an obtuse angle, and the Flyers had a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t stay that way for long, as the Capitals evened the score at 1-1 with a goal from who else? Alex Ovechkin. Ovie kicked a Matt Bradley pass up to his stick and quickly snapped the puck past goaltender Ray Emery, to notch his fourth goal in three games. Nicklas Backstrom and Bradley were credited with assists, but give one to Coach Bruce Boudreau as well – who made a great change on the fly to get Ovechkin on the ice against the Flyers fourth line.
Less than two minutes later, the Flyers were back on top when Kimmo Timonen beat Semyon Varlamov on a shot from the point. The Flyers were a man up as the Caps were going to be called for a delayed penalty, and Timonen took advantage of a heavily screened Varlamov.
Three minutes after that, the Caps evened the score at 2-2 with another goal from Ovechkin – his fifth of the season. The Russian superstar pressured Chris Pronger into a giveaway in his own zone, and Backstrom picked up the loose puck and hit Ovechkin who was driving for the net and beat Emery with a backhand.
The game settled down for a few minutes before Alexander Semin put Washington up 3-2 on a fabulous individual effort. Entering the Flyer zone, Semin dangled the puck in front of the Flyer defenseman Braydon Coburn, before undressing him with a beautiful curl drag move, and then beating Emery.
Then Flyers captain Richards took over; he took advantage of yet another Caps penalty and notched his second power play goal of the game. Just 18 seconds later, Richards scored again to give the Flyers a 4-3 lead, and notching just his second career NHL hat trick. In fact, Richards was the first Flyer to score a hat trick BEFORE the start of the third period since John Leclair. Richards’ third goal also changed Caps goalie Varlamov from the game, and Jose Theodore took over.
Seven goals in less than 15 minutes of second period action – four by Philly and three by Washington – the pace was frenetic. Flyers defenseman Matt Carle assisted on all four goals and in the process, set a club record and tied an NHL mark for defensemen with four assists in the second period (Rob Blake also did it on Jan. 29, 1998).
In the third, it was Washington’s turn to capitalize on a man advantage; Semin snapped home his second of the game with Backstrom picking up his third assist, and Ovechkin getting the other.
Brendan Morrisson scored just 1:14 later when he tipped in a Matt Bradley shot to put the Caps back on top 5-4 half-way through the period.
It stayed that way until Scott Hartnell pushed a Coburn rebound past Theodore, on yet another Flyers power play with 4:15 to go, forcing overtime.
Birthday boy Briere scored the game winner at 3:45 of overtime, and give the Flyers the victory at the Wachovia Center.
After the game, it was obvious what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau attributed the loss to:
“I think you take eight minors in a game, and you’re not going to win a game. Six in one period. That’s how four goals get scored against you, when you get six penalties in a period. That’s just not acceptable.”
The Caps actually took nine minor penalties – ten if you count the delayed penalty that Philadelphia scored on.
When asked about his decision to pull his goaltender, Boudreau offered:
“Varlamov gets scored on in bunches. He gets down on himself, and we’ve gotta get him out of that.”
The game pitted two of the NHL’s best teams against each other, and it didn’t disappoint despite the hype; it was a high-flying affair from start to finish – well at least from the second period on.
Many consider the Flyers to be a front runner for Stanley’s Cup, and with better goaltending, the Caps are right there; so while a loss is a loss, Boudreau and the organization should be happy with the level of play that the Capitals are displaying early in the season.
Next up for Washington is the New York Rangers on Thursday at the Verizon Center.
It was the third time in three games that Ovechkin has scored three points – only two other NHL players have ever opened the season with three or more points in the first three games – Peter Stastny and Guy Lafleur.
Backstrom has eight assists in the Caps first three games.
Matt Bradley had a fight in the first period with tough guy Ian LaPerriere, after Laperriere unceremoniously dumped Caps defender Mike Green into the boards. It’s always great to see a guy that doesn’t usually fight, drop the gloves to defend one of the team’s superstars. Kudos to Bradley – that’s leadership.
Check out video from the game and post game interviews here.