LANDOVER -- Washington Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld likes to remind his team that these are desperate times. It doesn't matter that the Caps have been winning, that they have been pursuing the Philadelphia Flyers toward the top of the Atlantic Division or even that they have settled quite nicely into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The bottom line is that every game matters.
After last night's 3-1 loss to the Flyers at sold-out USAir Arena, every game is going to matter a little more.
"The toughest thing is the people behind us in the standings move a little closer and the people we're trying to catch get a little farther away," said Schoenfeld. "But the problem in this game is easily discernible and, therefore, easy to address. We just stopped playing an aggressive brand of hockey in the second period and once the momentum swung, we didn't have enough, we didn't have what it took tonight, to get it back."
The Caps also were without leading scorer Peter Bondra, who came down with the flu yesterday.
"We missed Peter Bondra a lot, but it's not an excuse," said Schoenfeld. "We've had a lot of people out of the lineup over the last month and had a lot of other people step up. We were beaten by a team that played the last 40 minutes better than us."
The victory gives Philadelphia a five-point bulge over Washington and the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference, and keeps the Caps in the snarling pack. Washington, New Jersey, Buffalo and Boston are all within three points of each other for the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh playoff spots.
On top of that, the Flyers' victory makes them the only team in the conference that the Caps have not been able to beat, not even with rookie goalie Jim Carey in the net.
The Flyers finished the season series against the Caps 3-0-1.
"It's one loss, that's it," said Carey, who made 27 saves on the 29 shots he faced. "There are 12 games to go and we're going to get it going again. We would like to put ourselves in a good situation in the playoffs and, obviously, this didn't help. But it's a long road ahead of us and down the stretch this may or may not matter. What we have to do is maintain our focus and get another winning streak going."
Last night, the two teams were fairly even in all aspects, but a deflected shot allowed the Flyers to tie the game on a rebound by Rod Brind'Amour in the second period, and then a quick, reflex action by Eric Lindros produced the game-winner in the third.
The Flyers' final goal was scored by Kevin Haller into an open net with 20 seconds to play.
Just 2:59 had elapsed in the third period when Lindros produced. The Flyers drove in on Carey and the Caps rookie delivered the initial save. But the puck bounced out and there was Lindros' big skate to knock it down. And then there was his big stick to blast it home for the 2-1 advantage.
Washington nearly got the game tied at 12:56, when Steve Konowalchuk sent a rebound into the net. But just when the puck was about to cross the line, the net tipped over, dislodged by Washington's Rob Pearson, who was being juggled by the Flyers' defense.
The play was reviewed and the goal was disallowed because the officials judged the puck was kicked into the net by a Caps player -- a circumstance Schoenfeld took issue with after looking at the tape, saying the puck went off the skate of the Flyers' Petr Svoboda.
The Caps then got their fifth power-play opportunity of the night, but could not score on Ron Hextall, who was perfect after giving up a first-period goal to Michal Pivonka.
With Craig Berube taking Bondra's spot at right wing, the Caps )) got their 1-0 lead when Berube and Dimitri Khristich combined to get the puck to center Pivonka in front of the Flyers' crease.
Pivonka's shot, with 8:16 left in the period, mystified Hextall, who never saw the puck, which bounced off the post and into the goal.
NOTES: Center Mike Eagles, whom the Caps acquired from the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, arrived in time for last night's game and played early on the power-play unit, with Pivonka, Joe Reekie and Calle Johansson. . . . Washington returned center Jeff Nelson to AHL Portland.