LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals apparently put a lot of pressure on themselves last night. They looked at the Patrick Division standings and felt the neckline on their jerseys tighten.
They went against the Patrick Division's last-place team, the Philadelphia Flyers, and under the direction of coach Terry Murray they approached it as a "must-win game."
The Capitals gave it their best shot. They appeared to put the puck in the Flyers net three times, but it was Philadelphia and goalie Tommy Soderstrom who emerged as 3-0 winners. It was the first time the Capitals have been shut out at home since 1987.
"This was a very frustrating loss," said Murray, whose team has gone four games without a victory. "It was a division game against our closest rival. We wanted to treat this as a must-win situation, a playoff situation. . . . We needed to win and get ourselves going with a win and some points in the Patrick Division. It's getting so tight, it's uncomfortable."
At the Capital Centre -- the arena of choice for opposing Patrick Division fans -- a crowd of 17,322 with divided loyalties saw Washington goals by Michal Pivonka, Mike Ridley and Reggie Savage disallowed. And they were stunned to see Philadelphia's Mark Recchi get a lucky bounce of the puck off the boards that allowed him to skate around Sylvain Cote at the blue line and beat goalie Don Beaupre for what turned out to be the winner with 9:58 to play.
Both Beaupre, who made 22 saves only to see Philadelphia score three goals on four shots in the third period, and Soderstrom, who made 36 saves and held off a near relentless Washington attack, played superbly.
After Recchi scored, the Flyers added an insurance goal, when Pelle Eklund got a cross-ice pass around Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson to Rod Brind'Amour at the far post with five minutes left. Eric Lindros added the final score with an empty-net goal with 32 seconds left.
Washington's loss tightens the Patrick Division race, leaving one point between second-place Washington and the third-place New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. New Jersey tied Chicago last night, 1-1, and the Rangers beat Pittsburgh, 3-1.
While an apparent first-period goal by Pivonka was judged not to have crossed the goal line, it was not the play that made the biggest difference to the Capitals. The play that did that was the goal apparently scored by Ridley with 12:01 to go in the final period.
Ridley seemed to have scored on a straight-forward shot in front of the Flyers' net. But the referee had already signaled a kneeing penalty on Lindros and ruled that another Flyer had touched the puck before Ridley put it in the net.
"The rule is that you have to have control of the puck, not that it touches someone's stick or skate," Ridley said. "I think that was a bad call. It's 0-0 and we score a legitimate goal, and they call it back. When that happens, it has to have an impact."
"If Ridley's goal had counted -- and it looked like a good goal to me -- it would have made a tremendous difference on what happened," Murray said. "We could have taken more of a wait-and-see approach, and it would have forced Philadelphia to try to do something a little different."
A goal by Savage, two minutes after Ridley's, also was disallowed when the referee said the right wing had kicked it in the net.