"We were kidding around in the locker room that we haven't played this early since we were kids in bantam hockey," said the Capitals' Mike Ridley, after Philadelphia came out of its slumber in the last 10 minutes to take the game and detour Washington's pursuit of the Patrick Division regular-season crown. "It's a little earlier than we're normally used to.
"But we can't come into another team's building and sit back like we did with the lead. We've got to try to score that second goal."
After Ridley connected for a short-handed goal at 3:15 of the second period to give Washington a 1-0 lead, the Capitals didn't come close to scoring until they trailed. Still, it looked as if the lead might hold up until an unlikely source, Dave Brown, spoiled the bid of goaltender Jim Hrivnak, a former Skipjack, for his first NHL shutout with 10:08 left in regulation.
With overtime -- and the consolation prize of one point -- looming, Philadelphia center Keith Acton batted a rebound in midair past Hrivnak with 1:57 remaining in the third period. It meant the Capitals would have to endure a frustrating bus ride home for today's game with the Islanders. And, it kept alive the Flyers' long-shot playoff hopes.
"It was one of those all-reaction plays," Acton said. "I went brain dead. That's the best way for me."
Ron Hextall came up with big saves on Calle Johansson and Dmitri Khristich to preserve the lead before Kevin Dineen scored an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left to seal the win.
"Those are the ones who win tight games like this," said Capitals defenseman Rod Langway, pointing out that between them, Brown (four) and Acton (seven) have 11 goals. "Today was a situation where we didn't help ourselves.
"Losing a game we had more or less under control, it hurts."
Coach Terry Murray was even more blunt: "It is a tough game to lose, because these are the games you've got to win at this time of the year. It wasn't like they were coming down on rushes and putting pressure on us.
"We made mistakes in the fundamental parts of the game. We had control of the puck and turned it over. And those mistakes cost us."
As for playing in the morning, while the Caps wouldn't exactly use it as an excuse, they conceded it was strange. "It's different," said Kelly Miller, who assisted on Ridley's goal. "We got up at 7:30, had breakfast, then bused to the rink around 8:45.
"We were sluggish at first, but once our bodies woke up after a couple of hits, we were all right."
At least they were until the point-hungry Flyers' late surge ruined their appetites for lunch.
Washington 0 1 0 -- 1
Philadelphia 0 0 3 -- 3
First period--None. Penalties--Boivin, Phi (holding), 2:58; Johansson, Was (slashing), 6:23; Hunter, Was (holding), 8:55; Ricci, Phi (slashing), 10:38; Druce, Was (roughing), 13:54; Galley, Phi (roughing), 13:54; Kushner, Phi (boarding), 17:57.
Second period--1, Washington, Ridley 24 (Miller), 3:15 (sh). Penalties--Pivonka, Was (holding), 1:18; Acton, Phi (tripping), 3:46; Huffman, Phi (holding), 6:17; Recchi, Phi (cross-checking), 13:07; Druce, Was (interference), 17:37.
Third period--2, Philadelphia, Brown 4 (Freer, Duchesne), 9:52. 3, Philadelphia, Acton 7 (Conroy, Duchesne), 18:03. 4, Philadelphia, Dineen 25 (Recchi, Brind'Amour), 19:31 (en). Penalties--Hunter, Was (roughing), 14:59; Khristich, Was (roughing), 14:59; Benning, Phi (roughing), 14:59; Boivin, Phi (roughing), 14:59; Ciccarelli, Was, minor-misconduct (roughing), 19:13; Carkner, Phi (roughing), 19:13.
Shots on goal--Washington 8-8-5--21. Philadelphia 9-6-11--26. Power-play opportunities--Washington 0 of 6; Philadelphia 0 of 4. Goalies--Washington, Hrivnak, 4-3-0 (25 shots-23 saves). Philadelphia, Hextall, 14-17-6 (21-20). A--17,380.
Referee--Kerry Fraser. Linesmen--Wayne Bonney, Ray Scapinello.