PHILADELPHIA — If Wednesday night is any indication, especially the final 25-plus minutes, a potential playoff matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers will be awfully fun.
But it won’t feature what Washington coach Barry Trotz, whose team has already clinched the league’s best record, thinks separated the two teams on this night.
“The biggest difference in the two teams is probably the desperation level of Philadelphia,” Trotz said. “Ours probably wasn’t as high and it probably shouldn’t be, human nature and all that.”
And that playoff matchup won’t feature a shootout, either.
The desperate Flyers got shootout goals from Nick Cousins and Sam Gagner and the Flyers — the league’s worst shootout team since the breakaway competition’s inception — earned a 2-1 victory in a playoff-type atmosphere at Wells Fargo Center.
Flyers goalie Steve Mason first stopped T.J. Oshie to open the shootout before robbing Evgeny Kuznetsov with his glove after Cousins’ goal. That set up Gagner’s winner, a wrist shot past Washington goalie Braden Holtby.
The Capitals failed to convert on an overtime power play, though they came close when Nicklas Backstrom hit the post with a slap shot. That penalty kill opened the door for the Flyers to earn a crucial second point.
“You create your own bounces and we did that tonight,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “Our group worked real hard for 65 minutes before that shootout.”
Philadelphia entered the night tied with Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while having two games in hand. With Detroit idle, the Flyers moved to two points up with a game in hand and six games to play.
“At this point of the season it doesn’t matter how you get the two points,” Mason said. “We find a way to grind it out.”
“We’ve been putting everything into it night after night,” Hakstol said. “Nothing changes for us.”
Alexander Ovechkin’s 44th goal of the season broke a scoreless tie 1:28 into the third period. With a Capitals power play coming to an end, Ovechkin set up in his office, the top of the left circle, and took pass from Kuznetsov before firing a hard wrist shot over the glove of Mason.
But the Flyers stormed back.
When Marcus Johansson was whistled for hooking 13 minutes into the third period, they took advantage and equalized. Claude Giroux fired a slap shot from the left point that was perfectly redirected by left winger Brayden Schenn and by Holtby into the upper-portion of the net.
Holtby made 33 saves but didn’t earn his 48th win of the season. His 47 wins remain two shy of tying Martin Brodeur’s single-season record he set in the 2006-07 season.
A scoreless and largely defensive first period gave way to a more open style of play in the second. The Flyers dominated the early portion of the second frame and Holtby had to be Washington’s best player. Twice he robbed Flyers hopeful goal scorers in tight, first stopping Cousins with his glove seven minutes into the period. The likely Vezina Trophy finalist then stoned Michael Raffl from the same spot, keeping the game scoreless.
Mason then had to hold up his end of the bargain at the other end in the second half of the period. Mason stopped 29 of the 30 shots the Capitals sent his way, including a save in tight on Jay Beagle as the overtime session was coming to an end.
From there, desperation took over.
“I thought they were probably the better team tonight,” Holtby said. “We have to realize we have a lot more to give than that.”
NOTES: The Flyers on Tuesday announced the addition of veteran G Ray Emery, who joined the organization on a tryout contract to provide an insurance policy down the stretch. Emery, 33, joined the Flyers at Wednesday’s morning skate. He is not eligible for the playoffs. … Flyers G Steve Mason made his season-high, seventh-straight start Wednesday night. … RW T.J. Oshie was a game-time decision in the Washington lineup. Oshie, who entered Wednesday’s action fifth on the Capitals with 46 points, got “twisted up” in Washington’s last game, coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday morning after Oshie missed the morning skate. … The Flyers play another home game Saturday against Ottawa. … Washington travels to Colorado to take on the Avalanche Friday night. … The Capitals, in their 74th game of the season Monday, became the earliest team to win the Presidents’ Cup — awarded to the NHL team with the best record in the regular season — since 2002, when the Detroit Red Wings did it in their 75th game.