WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Washington Capitals kept their tradition of playing well on Super Bowl Sunday intact with a 3-2 comeback win over the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
The game marked the eighth consecutive year the Capitals played on Super Bowl Sunday, as they improved 16-8-2 all-time for that day.
“It wasn’t the start we wanted to have but we’ve shown before that we can come back and win games when we’re down,” said Washington forward Andre Burakovsky. “Just proves we are tight together. A great group of guys that work together and we believe all the time we can come back and we’ve done it before, so we believed we could do it again.”
The Capitals looked very flat in the second game of a back-to-back after defeating New Jersey on Saturday. The game started with the Caps and Flyers feeling each other out before a penalty allowed Washington to attempt to break its current power play slump with 12:17 remaining in the first. Nothing came from the man advantage and the Capitals’ power play struggles continued.
The rest of the opening period featured good neutral zone play for both teams without many quality scoring chances. However, late in the first period, Michael Del Zotto opened the scoring for the Flyers as he blasted a rocket from the point that Washington goalie Braden Holtby lost in traffic.
The second period started with Washington looking for the equalizer. Flyers goalie Steve Mason stopped four early shots, but Michael Latta drew a penalty after being crosschecked by Ryan White. The Caps failed to convert yet again with the man advantage and still trailed 1-0 with 13:41 remaining in the period. Washington is now 0-for-17 on the power play since the All-Star Break despite quality scoring chances in recent games.
The Capitals nearly tied the game a moment later, as Jason Chimera got a breakaway opportunity, but the speedster missed the net. Tom Wilson then uncorked a shot from the left circle, but Mason was able to make a stellar glove save to keep his team in front. Mason made two more tremendous saves as he stonewalled a Karl Alzner point shot and then denied T.J. Oshie on the rebound to reach the midway point of period two.
The Flyers got their first opportunity with the extra man later in the period as Wilson was called for interference. With 53 seconds remaining on the man advantage, the Capitals then got called for too many men. Still, the Capitals killed the Flyers’ 5-on-3 advantage as Holtby added another save to his highlight reel, robbing Jakub Voracek of a goal from the circle.
“That backdoor one? I got lucky, he flubbed it. But that was a huge one,” Holtby said with a chuckle.
After killing the 5-on-3, the momentum started to swing in the Caps’ favor.
“We haven't been finding the back of the net on the power play, but the penalty kill has been pretty good,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It's been pretty steady all year.”
Alex Ovechkin reached another milestone, as he tied the game on a deflection from the point. The tying goal was Ovi’s 30th on the season, making him only the third player in NHL history to score 30 goals or more in his first 11 seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky (13 seasons) and Mike Gartner (15 seasons).
“Everything’s been said about Alex,” Washington Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “He's probably the best goal scorer of this generation of players. It’s not surprising and he’s going to probably do it another time or two before he’s done. It’s fantastic. Consistency, that's a part of greatness.”
Ovechkin, on the other hand, was just pleased he was able to tie the game.
“You just have to do what you have to do,” Ovechkin said. “It was not a pretty goal, but it was a really important goal for us. I'll take it.”
Just over a minute later, Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov beat Mason with a wrister to give the Caps a 2-1 lead with three minutes remaining in the second period. The Capitals were 28-0-1 this season when leading after two periods.
Washington started the third period with 43 seconds left on a Niskanen penalty and managed to kill the penalty behind two pad saves from Holtby. Since the All-Star Break, Washington's penalty kill has killed eight for its last nine.
However, shortly after the kill the Flyers tied the game when Nick Schultz ripped a shot past Holtby.
The Capitals then looked to recapture the lead and upped the pressure. With 14:36 remaining in the game, Niskanen split the defense and deked around three Flyer defenders before shaking Mason for the go-ahead goal.
“It can't be the top two lines contributing,” Niskanen said. “We got a goal from our fourth line, today a couple from the 'D.’ That is part of being a team. Different teams that we face, there might be different areas of the ice that are open, different tactics that work.”
The jaw-dropping puck handling skills of Niskanen impressed players and coaches alike after he scored the eventual game-winner.
“It’s fun to watch a guy that doesn’t get attention often to finally get what he deserves,” Alzner said of Niskanen. “That has to be one of the nicest plays of the year for him to get because he makes a bunch of nice little plays throughout the entire season.”
The Capitals took that momentum and kept up the pressure, as they sustained numerous rushes that kept Philadelphia pinned in their own zone. The Flyers looked for the tying goal, but were unable to find it as Holtby remained stellar with a 33-save performance.
“Holtby made a couple unbelievable saves,” Del Zotto said. “That's going to happen. We knew they were going to come out with a big push in the second. We were expecting it. We just for whatever reason were on our heels a little bit. Back-to-back goals in however long it was, that can't happen. You need to come out and try to get some momentum back on your side.”
The win was Holtby’s 33rd of the season, leaving him only 15 wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s single season record. The win also moves the Capitals to 38-9-4 on the season.