Adam Oates needed the two points. More importantly, he needed validation.
After blowing third-periods leads in each of their last two losses, the Capitals grabbed a two-goal lead on goals by Wojtek Wolski and Troy Brouwer and played well enough the rest of the way to hold on for a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in front of 18,506 fans at Verizon Center.
“We hung in there,” Oates said after securing his second win of the season. “I think for the last week we’ve been playing better hockey. We kept pressure on them. We didn’t sit back, we played smart.
“I think [in the third period] a team can be a little tentative or be a little more reckless. It takes time to do it but it’s an art when you do.”
With the win the Capitals improved to 2-5-1 and climbed out of the Eastern Conference basement, where they were replaced by the Flyers, who fell to 2-6-0.
The Caps are now just three points behind the eighth-place Pittsburgh Penguins, whom they’ll face Sunday afternoon at home.
“We really needed this one, especially in the position that we’re in,” said Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, who had his best offensive game with a goal and an assist. “We need the points.”
Brouwer agreed, saying the team’s expectations haven’t changed because of their slow start.
“It doesn’t matter if you win the Presidents Trophy and get into the playoffs or you squeak in,” Brouwer said after netting his third goal of the season. “It’s what you do in the playoffs. For us there are still those same expectations.”
The Caps struggled on the power play, where they went 0-for-5, but they were perfect on the penalty kill for just the second time this season. The Caps held the Flyers scoreless on three power plays and are now 2-0 when holding their opponents without a power-play goal and 0-5-1 when allowing one.
The Caps also saw Nicklas Backtrom have his best offensive game of the season with a goal and an assist and a plus-2 rating. Backstrom centered a new line with Brouwer and Marcus Johansson and the trio combined for seven shots.
Backstrom scored the Caps’ first goal of the game on a breakaway, taking a quick pass from John Carlson and beating Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov with a forehand-to-backhand move.
As good as Backstrom looked, Oates thought Alex Ovechkin played his best game of the season on a line with Wolksi and Mike Ribeiro. Ovechkin didn’t record a point and was late getting back on the Flyers’ first-period goal, but he recorded a game-high seven shots.
“I thought it was the best game he’s played this year, quite honestly,” Oates said. “He was involved in the whole game. I thought he had a lot of opportunities.”
Brouwer gave the Caps a 2-1 lead 3:57 into the third period.
Parked in the left circle, he took a cross-ice pass from Mike Green, measured Bryzgalov and snapped a shot over the goalie's right shoulder.
Wolski gave the Caps a 3-1 lead when he stripped Luke Schenn of the puck in the neutral zone and streaked in alone on Bryzgalov, beating him with a backhand to the goalie's stick side with 6:44 gone in the third.
The Flyers fought back when Schenn netted his first of the season at the 10:30 mark but that was as close as they’d get.
For the second time in a week, Ovechkin again missed an empty net in the closing seconds, taking another couple seconds off his coach’s life.
“I would have liked a little less stress,” Oates said with a smile. “He’s having a tough time with that empty net, but he’ll get there.”