WASHINGTON – Just when it looked like the Flyers might shock the Metro Division-leading Capitals for a third straight time this season, reality set in.
The Flyers rushed off to a 2-0 lead on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena, then watched things fall apart before their eyes.
Washington rallied for three unanswered goals in the second period and the Flyers eventually wound up on the short end of a 5-3 score.
Philadelphia had won the first two games of the season series by scores of 8-2 and 2-1. But the Caps finally found their shooting eye after an uneven first period.
Starting goalie Michal Neuvirth admitted after the game that he was still feeling the effects of a stomach virus which had kept him out of Monday’s practice.
He allowed all five goals and was replaced by rookie Alex Lyon with 10:54 to play. Lyon made his NHL debut a good one, keeping the Caps off the board while the Flyers cut a 5-2 lead to 5-3 and had a couple chances in the final minute.
Coach Dave Hakstol said he did not pull Neuvirth because he wasn’t feeling well. He was just giving Lyon a chance to play.
“I was trying to hydrate myself as much as I can,’’ Neuvirth said. “I felt good in the first, sat down after 20 minutes and I was just getting tired every minute.
“I really haven’t eaten much lately, I was drinking a lot of water. One practice, pre-game skate. . .it is what it is. I felt energy in the first but after that I was getting slower, slower and getting sloppier.’’
Hakstol didn’t get into much detail about his communications with Neuvirth.
“I made the decision to take him out and put Alex in after the fifth goal,’’ Hakstol said. “I haven’t spoken to him after the game.’’
The Flyers had everything going their way in the first period as they raced to a 2-0 lead.
A new line of Nolan Patrick, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds needed only 1:18 to find success.
Voracek started a breakout with a skill outlet pass, setting up a two-on-one rush. Wayne Simmonds and Patrick broke in on defenseman Brooks Orpik, with Simmonds finding Patrick open for an easy shot past Braden Holtby.
“It was a great breakout and great play by Jake,’’ Patrick said. “He redirected it through his legs and then it was an unbelievable pass by Simmer.’’
Travis Konecny, who scored the game-winner in overtime here just 10 days ago, connected at 7:50 for a 2-0 lead.
Sean Couturier made a nice rush down the right side and got a shot on Holtby. The goalie couldn’t control the rebound and Konecny put it home.
But things went the other way quickly in the second period.
Neuvirth couldn’t control an innocent flip shot from a wide angle by Lars Eller. Chandler Stephenson poked the puck across the line at 2:14 to cut the lead to 2-1.
“I got surprised there,’’ Neuvirth acknowledged. “It’s a bad goal. It gave them life. The rest is history.’’
The Caps tied it moments later when Tyrell Goulbourne jumped off on a line change, leaving Stephenson open for a breakaway goal at 3:01.
The goals ended a 29-game drought for Stephenson. It was the first two-goal game of his NHL career.
“The second one, you can’t let that happen, it’s a sleepy play,’’ Hakstol said. “Quick transition that gets in behind our defense (Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning). The start of that period changed the complexion of the game.’’
Washington capped the rally with a power-play goal (with Andrew MacDonald off). Andre Burakovsky got position inside Manning and tipped in Eller’s pass at 14:32.
In the third, the Caps continued the onslaught. T.J. Oshie scored from the slot at 5:28 on the power play to make it 4-2. He ended a 14-game drought.
At 9:06, a shot by Christian Djoos clicked off Devante Smith-Pelly’s skate for a 5-2 lead.
That led to Hakstol sending in Lyon to make his NHL debut.
“It was a good day,’’ Lyon said. “Got a stain on my suit this morning but other than that it was a pretty good day.
“I’ve been working hard the last couple months to make sure I would be acclimated to this. In pre-season, I told myself when it does happen, be ready to go. Try to avoid the nerves as much as possible. I really wasn’t too nervous at all.’’
The Flyers stopped the Caps’ streak at five with a goal from Voracek midway through the period.
As to who will be the starting goaltender for Thursday night’s game in New Jersey, Hakstol wouldn’t commit.
Will the short sample of work help if he starts against the Devils?
“Yeah, I think so,’’ Lyon said. “I mean, you just have to take the same approach every day. It’s good.’’
Voracek said the Flyers had their chance in this game but let it slip away.
“We’re up 2-0, we just have to find a way to keep the game close,’’ he said. “We did. We were down 3-2 and that’s not a bad spot here in Washington. But those two quick goals hurt us.’’
The Flyers came into the game undefeated in regulation time when leading after the first period (7-0-2) but that streak is over.