LANDOVER — LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals played a physical and passionate game of hockey yesterday to overcome the bigger, more talented Philadelphia Flyers for the first time in two years.
With a sellout crowd of 18,130 at USAir Arena, Washington dominated play. The Capitals made the big hits, cut off the Flyers' rushes, scored when they had to to stay in the game and were inspired by rookie defenseman Brendan Witt, who played much of the third period with a broken left hand.
The game wasn't decided until 38.9 seconds remained in overtime. That's when Caps veteran left wing Kelly Miller used what he likes to call his "spin-o-rama" to get off a beautiful pass to Steve Konowalchuk in front of Flyers goalie Ron Hextall for the backhand that clinched the 3-2 victory.
"We knew we weren't going to blow off the Flyers," said Konowalchuk, who had two goals. "We just went out and worked hard. The standings are real close and it's a big division game. Two points is two points and we've got to be real happy with this one."
Washington's victory was its first over the Flyers at USAir Arena since Feb. 22, 1992, and first over the Flyers anywhere since a neutral-site game in Cleveland on Jan. 29, 1994.
It was also the first time former Capitals coach and now Flyers coach Terry Murray has seen his current team lose to his former, stopping a 4-0-2 run.
"These streaks get started and the longer they go the harder they are to break," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld. "So I'm really happy to get rid of the Philadelphia ghost."
Murray wasn't so happy, however, having seen two leads forged on goals by Eric Lindros and Shawn Antoski wiped out in regulation on goals by Konowalchuk (power play) and Pat Peake. He also saw Hextall out-dueled by Washington's Jim Carey, who made 17 saves to give his team the chance at overtime.
"They play a very defensive style, but we got some opportunities," Murray said. "We just didn't finish them."
But as much as the Flyers might like to think they were at fault for this loss, it was the Capitals who took the game away from them.
That didn't just happen. Washington started building toward this Thursday in New Jersey against the Devils. It was at the end of the first period of that game, with the Capitals behind, 2-0, that Schoenfeld came into the locker room and told his players they were not up to the challenge.
"When a coach comes in and tells you that, it's a little embarrassing for the players," said Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi, who like many of his teammates was still angry after the game. "We all have a lot of pride."
Tinordi, still irked after that game, noted the Caps had not beaten the Devils in two years.
"If we're going to win anything, we have to beat New Jersey and the other teams in our division," he said.
The Capitals didn't win that night, but they continued their physical assault against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, earning a 1-0 shutout before breaking their drought against the Flyers yesterday afternoon.
Much of the credit went to the hard-working line of Dale Hunter, Miller, Konowalchuk and defensemen Calle Johansson and Tinordi, who took the play away from the Lindros line.
"After the All-Star break, this is when teams really pick it up," said Miller. "You've got eight spots and 13 teams shooting for it. And teams are bunched up. There's not that much space in between. This is playoff hockey."
"We've come out and played hard these last two games," said Tinordi. "We didn't come out and give the game away. We've come ready to play. That's the way we have to be. When we're into the game physically, we usually play a good game. It's a good sign for us."
Yesterday's game was one of the most physically contested of the season, "a typical Flyers-Capitals game," said Konowalchuk.
But this recent Caps run has not been typical. Against Buffalo, Washington defenseman Joe Reekie was blasted in the face with a puck at point-blank range. He got three stitches and an X-ray, and despite a broken nose he was back in the game 10 minutes later.
Yesterday, Witt went hard into the boards with John LeClair during the third period and broke his left hand. But Witt never missed a shift the rest of the way. After the game, he was immediately put on injured reserve and will be out of action for six weeks.
"He's a tough you-know-what," said Schoenfeld. "It was another example of a warrior's battling and it gets high marks in my books."
In fact, Schoenfeld said, his entire team is getting high marks.
"I'm thrilled with them," he said. "Every now and then you just need a wake-up call or someone to help you recognize that you're just not paying the price."