Capitals earn an ugly, but critical two points in slugfest with Philadelphia

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

Capitals earn an ugly, but critical two points in slugfest with Philadelphia originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

WASHINGTON – It wasn't pretty, but it still counts. The Capitals were largely outplayed Sunday by the Philadelphia Flyers but Braden Holtby led the Caps to the 3-1 win and a critical two points.

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Washington's lead atop the Metropolitan Division had been trimmed down to one point after Saturday's action. Had the Caps lost in regulation, they could have finished the day dropping to second place if the New York Islanders win their game later in the day. The victory, however, ensures Washington will keep its spot atop the division in the ever-tightening playoff race.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

A Wilson hit

Tom Wilson has a bad rap around the league, but his physical play can certainly be an asset to the Caps and that was on display in Washington's first goal.

Early in the game, the Caps held the puck in the offensive zone. Claude Giroux swept the puck off the stick of Alex Ovechkin and that looked like it would be the end of that offensive opportunity for Washington. As Giroux went to recover the puck behind the goal line, however, he felt the pressure of Wilson who knocked him into the boards and turned the puck over right back. Suddenly the Flyers were on their heels.

Wilson fittingly got to finish off the play he started as he got to the front of the net deflected in a shot from Nick Jensen past goalie Brian Elliott.

Travis Boyd's timely deflection

Philadelphia began to take control of the game in the second period. The Flyers outshot the Caps 20-7 in the middle frame. Besides two 2-on-1 opportunities, neither of which they converted on, there was little offense to speak of for Washington. As the Flyers began to assert themselves, however, Travis Boyd provided a critical tally.

Sean Couturier turned the puck over on a breakout and the Flyers were caught completely out of position. Boyd had a great scoring opportunity but missed the net. Matt Niskanen cut the puck off at the blue line and threw it back on net. Boyd smartly went to the front of the net after the shot and was there to deflect it in to give Washington a 2-0 lead.

Not only did that goal prove to be the game-winner, but it also kept the Caps ahead when Jakub Voracek finally struck on the power play later in the period.

Braden Holtby

When the Caps were on their heels, Holtby was there to shut the door and keep them ahead. The Caps' netminder was tested 36 times with 20 of those shots on goal coming in the second period alone.

It was not as if the Flyers weren't pressuring Holtby either. Philadelphia was in his face all game long trying to knock him off his game with physical play. More than once you could see Holtby give a little hack with his goalie stick to a Flyers player after taking perhaps one too many liberties with the netminder.

Holtby was brilliant in a game in which Washington was largely outplayed. The Caps do not get this critical win without his effort in net.

Vrana's breakaway

The Caps held a precarious 2-1 lead heading into the third period. Philadelphia was outplaying them badly and carried that momentum into the final 20 minutes. Brooks Orpik's roughing penalty was the fourth straight power play for the Flyers and it felt like only a matter of time before Philadelphia would finally get the game-tying tally. Washington managed to kill off the penalty, however, and soon after extended their lead to 3-1 as Jakub Vrana snapped the puck through Elliott's five-hole.

Brett Connolly tried to hit the puck off the wall and out of the defensive zone, but the puck was stopped at the blue line by defenseman Philippe Myers. Myers attempted to sweep the puck deep, but failed and Connolly cut it off and tapped it up to the streaking Vrana who was in behind the defense.

You have to give credit to Philadelphia for not collapsing after Boyd's goal. After dominating play, going down 2-0 must have been a deflating feeling, but they battled back. Vrana's goal to restore the two-goal lead, however, was the knockout punch. The Flyers could not battle back after that one.

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