Um, allow me to catch my breath.
When noted antagonist Daniel Briere completed the comeback for the Philadelphia Flyers, taking a 4-3 lead with just 5:45 left in the game after his team trailed 3-0 just into the second period, the collective soul of the Washington Capitals -- and their fan base -- had every right to be crushed, dejected and exhausted.
But a little over two minutes later, a young Swede that's growing up right before our eyes took matters into his own hands, rifling a shot past backup goalie Brian Boucher from the high slot to force overtime. After a scoreless five minutes, Washington scored on all three of their penalty shots and escaped one of the toughest places to play in the league with two points -- which they were definitely fortunate to earn.
The win puts the Caps just a single point behind the Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference, six ahead of Boston for second, and seven up on Tampa Bay -- losers at home to the Islanders -- for first in the Southeast Division.
This is a tale of three games rolled into one. The first game consisted of the Caps beating Flyers starting goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, like a drum. The Russian rookie was shaky from the get-go, allowing three goals on nine shots, before being replaced by backup Brian Boucher after the third goal at 1:22 of the second period.
Not to take anything away from the effort of the Caps on the scoring plays, but two of the three goals against Bobrovsky were definitely preventable. Nick Backstrom's snap shot trickled between Bobrovsky's blocker arm and his body for the Caps first tally, and he gave up the near post on Mike Knuble's close range stuff on the second.
Dennis Wideman sent "Bob" to the showers with his shot from the point at the start of the second period.
At that point, the second game commenced, as the Caps were content to sit back and let the Flyers dictate play, as if they were daring them to erase a three goal lead. Enough said.
Michal Neuvirth had more problems with his own defense backing into him and screening him than he really did with the Flyers offense. Philly outshot the Caps 11-7 in the second and 11-5 in the third, and completely dominated play to the point that it looked like the home team had a two period power play.
The goals were inevitable, as Neuvirth had to contend with the screens and physical play from the Flyers up front. There was a noticable lack of contact from the Caps defense for most of this contest, with the Flyers roughing things up -- and chirping -- with impugnity once they got on the board.
Neuvirth could do little on either of Philly's first two goals, the first bouncing in off defenseman Dennis Wideman's skate; the second came on a botched clear, with Andreas Nodl drawing the defense -- and Neuvirth -- before hitting an unchecked Claude Giroux on the doorstep.
Three Caps defenders were marking center Jeff Carter, leaving Giroux and his lethal shot all alone to fire into the open net.
The emboldened Flyers just picked up the pace even more in the third. Midway through the frame, on a hard forecheck, Jeff Schultz coughed the puck up into his own slot, where Nodl gathered and buried it past a dazed Neuvrith, and the game was tied.
Later, after Flyers won another yet faceoff (Caps 44 percent for the night) Briere tipped a shot from the point by Kimmo Timmonen that was destined for the back board behind a screened Neuvirth, and things looked bleak for the Caps.
Washington picked up its play a bit after the goal, and at 16:41, Mike Knuble (goal, two assists) dug the puck out of the offensive left wing corner, carried aliong the boards, and found Johansson, who had slipped into the high slot undetected.
Johansson called for the shot like a veteran and pounded it past Boucher to send it to overtime.
Neither team took any risk in the extra frame, and when it was unsettled after five minutes of four-on-four, the gimmick was invoked to award the extra point.
Matt Hendricks used his nifty stutter step to get Boucher on the ice and slipped it past him backhanded, Nick Backstrom got a quick snap shot through, and Alexander Semin finished Boucher and Flyers off stick side for the game winner. Neuvirth tripped up Carter with his stick, keeping the prolific scorer off the board, and the win went to the visitors.
As John Carlson tweeted after the game, a win is a win is a win. Especially in Philadelphia. The Caps didn't do themselves any favors retreating into a shell after taking a 3-0 lead. Despite earning the extra point tonight, the Flyers have to be emboldened by the fact they shredded the Caps now vaunted defense after falling into such a hole.
But the Caps, too, take something away from this one. First, they took a big lead over one of the East's best in their own building. They showed resiliency to not quit after allowing the fourth goal. And they found some toughness late that was missing early, with Scott Hannan putting himself in harm's way to block a shot with two minutes left, and Carlson FINALLY dumping a Flyers forward in the corner after getting ridden roughshod most of the game.
And the Caps did all this, missing the services of Alex Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, Mike Green, Tom Poti, and Eric Fehr, who mysteriously missed all but one shift in the third period.
All four games in this series this season went to overtime. Heaven help us all if these teams meet again in the playoffs.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
3. Nicklas Backstrom. The senior Swede had goal, assist, shootout marker.
2. Marcus Johansson. Goal and assist, plus-2. When Arnott gets back, he gives the Caps a dangerous playmaker on the third line. Can't be undersetimated in playoffs to be able to roll three lines with confidence.
1. Mike Knuble. Pops had a goal and two assists in his old haunt, and really showed his veteran leadership -- on the ice.