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July 22, 2019
First Round Recap: Philadelphia vs Washington
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Philadelphia Flyers (6) vs Washington Capitals (3): Philadelphia won series, 4-3.
Aw, that was a beauty.
While everyone else was all over the Capitals, I was one of the few people who called the Flyers. I thought they'd physically punish the Caps, beating them up in a tough, grueling six-game series. And through the first half of Game Six, I looked like friggin' Kreskin.
But the Caps weren't about to go out like punks. Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, the two guys I said would wilt under playoff pressure, sparked a thrilling comeback. First, the dynamic duo orchestrated a double give-and-go, culminating with Backstrom rifling home his third of the playoffs to make the score 2-1. Then Semin popped a rebound over Martin Biron to tie the game heading to the third period. That's when Alexander Ovechkin took over, scoring two beautiful goals to send the series back to Washington.
The game-winner came from a faceoff in the right circle. Sergei Fedorov actually beat Daniel Briere on the draw, pulling the puck back to the corner, but Lupul fought through Shaone Morrison to claim the loose biscuit and work it back up the wall to Mike Richards.
When the puck first went in the corner, Dave Steckel dropped behind the net thinking Morrison or Milan Jurcina would reverse the play. Lupul's hustle scrapped that idea. And when Lupul threw the puck around Jurcina, Fedorov made the unfortunate decision to pressure Richards along the wall. As a result, Briere was left buck naked in the slot.
Richards quickly fired a pass to Briere for the one-timer, but Steckel managed to arrive just in time to block the shot back to the left point. Huet, who went down on the original Briere chance, had to scramble to his feet and get ready for a Kimmo Timonen bomb.
The Finnish blueliner stepped into the puck and got every ounce of the shot. Lupul somehow managed to tip it in front. Huet flashed the left pad but had no clue where the rebound went. Lupul did. He calmly slipped it behind Huet on the backhand to send the Flyers to Montreal. There was much rejoicing. Except, you know, in the arena, where pretty much everyone thought it sucked.
Morrison and Lupul came out of the corner just as Steckel was blocking Briere's shot. Steckel's momentum carried him through the play, and he did his best to get out to Timonen at the left point. Morrison abandoned Lupul and marked Briere. That left Lupul for Jurcina. Someone really should have told good ol' Milan.
Instead of eliminating Lupul, Jurcina skated to a spot near the right post and stopped, content to merely watch the play as Timonen dropped the hammer. Jurcina never even touched Lupul. Had he kept his feet moving and cleared Lupul, they'd probably still be playing hockey. But he didn't. So they're not.
I saw it, and I still can't believe it. With about 2:50 left in regulation, Ovechkin grabbed the puck in the Philadelphia zone and skated all alone into the high slot. With the entire Verizon Center on its feet, Ovechkin teed up the big slapper. What happened next will live on in infamy.
His teammates thought he was going to shoot. The Flyers thought he was going to shoot. The fans thought he was going to shoot. Carl the Retarded Space Goat thought he was going to shoot. But Ovechkin didn't shoot.
Instead of firing a clean slapper from about 20 feet, the best goal-scorer in hockey made the unfathomable decision to pass the puck to Fedorov slipping in behind Biron off left wing. Not surprisingly, the pass skipped over Fedorov's blade. It was stunning.
Yeah, I realize Biron was cutting down the angle. And, yeah, I'm sure Fedorov could have had an easy tap-in. But it was a terrible play. It's one thing if it's Sidney Crosby in that situation. Sid is a playmaker. He can make that pass. Ovechkin is a shooter. His best pass is still a rebound. It was a terrible decision. There's simply no defending it.
Ovechkin had the game, nay, the series on his stick, and he passed the puck. Unbelievable. If Semin or Backstrom makes that play, it's no big thing. But seeing Ovechkin turn down an open shot to win the game is devastating. It was like watching Superman ride the bus. It crushed his club's spirit, it sapped all the energy out of the building, and it also gave the Flyers an emotional lift. They knew they dodged a bullet. The game should have been over. But Ovechkin passed the puck.
Even if he hammers it wide or drills Biron in the pads, it still gives the Caps momentum and fires up the crowd. And from that distance, anything that hits Biron will create a rebound. The one thing he couldn't do was pass the puck.
Ovechkin will never get a better scoring chance in his life, let alone in the waning moments of a Game Seven. And he passed the puck. Hard to get happy after that one.
Washington had its share. Like I said, I owe Semin and Backstrom each an apology. I said they'd fold under the pressure. I was misinformed. They both played like champs. Semin finished with three goals, eight points, and 28 shots; Backstrom added four goals and six points, scoring one goal in each of the last four games. They're both players.
After getting the winner in Game One, Ovechkin was held in check for much of the series until coming to life in the third period of Game Six. He exploded for two goals to extend the series, and then he set the tone for Game Seven with a huge hit on Timonen. He had a hand in the first goal of the night when an errant slapper off the backboards kicked right to Backstrom. And when the Caps were trailing 2-1 in the second, Ovechkin ripped a wrister behind Biron to give his team life.
Ovechkin did it all. Except shoot the puck when the series was on his stick. It's gonna be a long summer.
Bruce Boudreau deserves recognition. I was calling for him to start Olaf Kolzig in Game Five, but he stuck with Huet, and it paid off. Huet stopped 94 of 101 shots over the final three games of the series. Boudreau also successfully juggled his lines, moving Backstrom away from Ovechkin and onto a line with Semin and Brooks Laich. Backstrom and Semin immediately clicked, getting the Caps back into the series after falling behind three games to one.
The list of Flyer heroes has to start with Daniel Briere. It was questionable whether or not Briere would even play because of a knee injury. He not only played, he led all playoff scorers with six goals and 11 points.
Before the series, I said to keep an eye on Vinnie Prospal. As a former Lightning Bolt, he had a lot of experience playing the Caps. And it showed. Prospal hung three goals and nine points on his former Southeast foes. I can't wait to watch him disappear against the Canadiens. And he's going to do it while hanging upside down in a tank of water. He's such a showman.
Kimmo Timonen had a swell series. He was the man most responsible for "limiting" Ovechkin to four goals and nine points.
And Lupul had pretty good timing on his only goal. The best part about it was it came from hard work. Well, actually the best part was I picked up Lupul in a playoff hockey pool.
Shoot the puck!