WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals don't usually play well against the big, dominating Philadelphia Flyers, but last night the Capitals looked like a powerhouse equal to anything the Flyers wanted to throw at them.
Using a strong performance by the top checking line - Steve Konowalchuk, Jeff Halpern and Mike Grier - a classic performance by goalie Olie Kolzig and an offensive outburst that warmed the heart of coach Bruce Cassidy, the Capitals sent the Flyers back to Philadelphia pondering the Caps' rousing 4-1 victory.
"I loved what I saw," said Cassidy. "We matched them hit for hit. I don't know if winning this game was climbing some kind of mountain, but I think it was certainly some kind of hill. They're the top team in the East. They're the measuring stick and tonight, we outhit them and outskated them. I think it bodes well."
The Flyers (9-3-2) arrived here off a disappointing 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils confident they could get their usual two points against the Caps.
Until last night, Washington (8-6-1) hadn't beaten the Flyers since Jan. 28, 2001.
But over the past four games the Capitals have shown a surprising resiliency. They've won twice in overtime and played a more responsible game.
Last night, they further followed Cassidy's instructions and scored a goal from the point by a defenseman, moved the puck more briskly on the power play and went after rebounds.
"It was a big game for us," said Konowalchuk, the team captain. "We played the best two periods of our season so far - in every situation."
The Caps' control of this game began in the opening period, with Kolzig denying a fired-up Flyers team and with the Halpern line checking the Flyers, seemingly on every pass.
"Kolzig is Kolzig," said Philadelphia right wing Mark Recchi, who spoiled Kolzig's shutout bid with 1:59 left in the third period. "He's a great goalie and, tonight, their entire team played a solid game. Their power play was good and I think that Halpern line set the tone for them. That's a true gritty line and it looks like they like to lead the charge."
Kolzig made 43 saves, as he accomplished his goal of giving his team a chance to "redeem" itself for two previous losses to the Flyers this season.
But, as Recchi said, he had help and lots of it. In the second period, defenseman Sergei Gonchar got the first goal of the season by a Washington defenseman. His shot from the point, with just 21 seconds gone, gave Washington a 1-0 lead on its third power-play opportunity.
Konowalchuk slammed home what would be the game-winner on a rebound to make it 2-0 at the three-minute mark. And Jaromir Jagr, who had suggested the power play needed players who would move without the puck, did just that last night. When the Flyers' penalty-killing unit seemingly forgot about him, he scooted in behind it at the far post to put away a rebound off a shot by Peter Bondra to build Washington's lead to 3-0.
Bondra, who Cassidy said "probably led our team in hits," made the most of a back check by linemate Andreas Salomonsson and scored Washington's fourth goal on a breakaway, beating Flyers goalie Robert Esche one-on-one after he replaced Roman Cechmanek.
"I've always said, if you win the special team and goaltending battles, you'll win most of your games," said Cassidy. "Tonight, we did that. It was a real big confidence-builder because all of our players played well, not just our stars."
Philadelphia 0 0 1 - 1
Washington 0 4 0 - 4
First period - None. Penalties - Primeau, Phi (boarding), :11; Brashear, Phi, major (fighting), 6:19; Peat, Was, major (fighting), 6:19; Seidenberg, Phi (holding stick), 6:56; Eminger, Was (elbowing), 9:14. Second period - 1, Washington, Gonchar 1 (Nylander), :21 (pp). 2, Washington, Konowalchuk 4 (Halpern, Metropolit), 3:00. 3, Washington, Jagr 9 (Bondra, Nylander), 6:45 (pp). 4, Washington, Bondra 8 (Lang, Salomonsson), 15:26. Penalties - LeClair, Phi (holding), :18; Recchi, Phi (tripping), 1:00; Brashear, Phi (holding), 5:30; McGillis, Phi (cross-checking), 9:35; Handzus, Phi (holding), 10:18; Konowalchuk, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:51; Johansson, Was (tripping), 18:16. Third period - 5, Philadelphia, Recchi 6 (Roenick, LeClair), 18:01. Penalties - Konowalchuk, Was (slashing), 1:33; Recchi, Phi (unsportsmanlike conduct), 5:04; Fedoruk, Phi (goalie interference), 8:56; Halpern, Was (hooking), 9:37; Klee, Was (hooking), 18:27. Shots on goal - Philadelphia 11-16-17-44. Washington 6-16-4-26. Power-play opportunities - Philadelphia 0 of 6; Washington 2 of 9. Goalies - Philadelphia, Cechmanek 6-3-2 (13 shots-10 saves), Esche (6:45 second, 13-12). Washington, Kolzig 6-2-0 (44-43). A - 18,277 (18,672).