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Flyers fall 3-1 to Holtby, Caps as playoff hopes are really gone

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Can’t lose in the first round if you don’t make the playoffs to begin with.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, the playoffs aren’t any fun anyways.

PUCK DROP

This game finally got underway after a delay from the Flyers, who had Phil Varone listed on the lineup sheet but not on the bench. Not a great start for Scott Gordon and the boys in a must-win.

The Flyers’ on-ice start was better, nearly grabbing the first goal of a scramble in front of Braden Holtby thanks to a point shot from Travis Sanheim finding its way on goal. The first two offensive zone shifts featured pucks towards Holtby from all angles.

But the first goal would go to the Capitals, because of course, with Tom Wilson deflecting a point shot from Nick Jensen past Brian Elliott to make it 1-0. The Flyers buzzed at the other end, but again found themselves down early again in a hockey game, this one just short of four minutes in.

Not the start that the Flyers were looking for, especially in a game where a loss would all but eliminates them from playoff contention. I’m told playing from behind is worse than playing from ahead.

Perhaps some payback for his opening goal as Wilson felt the wrath of James van Riemsdyk in the open ice as the NHL’s hottest goal scorer table topped the Caps forward to earn an interference call. While not the smartest thing JVR’s done in a bit, it’s never terrible seeing Wilson get a dose of his own medicine.

With 6:51 in the first the Flyers again put an excuse me shot on Holtby that the goaltender fumbled out in front before scrambling to cover before the Flyers could converge. Shortly after Justin Bailey would make a trip other than to Lehigh Valley and make his way to the penalty box to put the Caps’ power play back on ice with five and change left in the frame. Elliott would come up with three huge save on the ensuing kill as the Caps looked like the Harlem Globetrotters on ice with pinpoint passing only to be denied by the veteran.

AFTER 20: Capitals 1, Flyers 0

Just 29 seconds into the second period, the NHL’s leading goal scorer would put the Flyers to their first power play of the afternoon. Nothing would be doing for the Flyers as the Caps killed off Alex Ovechkin’s slashing minor with relative ease.

A better chance would come a minute later from Travis Konecny on a turn around shot that Holtby got a pad on. It was a strong shift from Konecny, who blasted a slap shot high and wide on the same shift.

With the Flyers attacking in the Caps’ zone, Radko Gudas got caught on a pinch to allow a 2-on-1 the other way, but Elliott was able to get across to deny Andre Burakovsky at the five-minute mark. Broken record, but another 2-on-1 for the Caps on the next shift came thanks to Sanheim, but again Elliott was there to make a key save, this time on Brett Connolly.

As has been the case with Carter Hart in recent games, Brian Elliott and the Flyers’ goaltending was doing their part while the team in front left them out to dry.

The effort was much better in the second, though, with Konecny leading the charge. His effort led to a rebound in front of Holtby that Shayne Gostisbehere could only get a hand on and send wide nearly nine minutes in.

But as was the case earlier, the Flyers would pay for not finding the back of the net on their chances.

After a slew of strong shifts controlling play in the Caps’ zone, Travis Boyd would deflect a Matt Niskanen shot past Elliott to make it 2-0 with 9:13 left in the period. A turnover from Sean Couturier trying to exit his own zone extended the Caps’ cycle and ending with Boyd’s fifth of the season.

With 6:38 left in the second the Flyers would head back to the power play to try and cut into the lead with Wilson off for decking Jake Voracek. Wilson was out there running around again, but got caught this time after getting away with a subtle head shot on JVR in the first.

Couturier got a golden chance on the ensuing power play from the slot, but his one-timer was denied by Holtby. The Caps’ netminder has had an up-and-down season, but was locked in during the first two periods, which was less than ideal for the Flyers.

The Flyers would finally break through the brick wall of Holtby with a power play goal from Voracek with 2:50 left in the period. Voracek’s goal cut the lead to 2-1 and finally rewarded the Flyers for a period in which they mostly controlled save for Holtby’s heroics. It’s wasn’t pretty, but it counts on the scoreboard all the same.

A dominant effort by the Flyers in the middle stanza with 20 shots to the Caps’ seven, but a goal for each left a deficit to make up in the third for the Orange and Black.

AFTER 40: Capitals 2, Flyers 1

JVR would draw yet another penalty early in the third to give the Flyers another power play and a chance to tie things up 3:25 in. A puck battle with JVR and Brooks Orpik led to some extra nonsense from Orpik that officials picked up on.

Holtby came up with one large save on the Flyers’ power play, taking a Voracek bid off the mask as the most dangerous chance. The Caps’ netminder was the difference from the second period on as the Flyers controlled much of the game after the first intermission.

But as we’ve seen before, simply carrying play doesn’t mean the Flyers can avoid making a fatal mistake that ends up in their own net.

Philippe Myers got caught at the Caps’ blue line and Jakub Vrana ended up with a breakaway chance at the other end and made no mistake to beat Elliott and suddenly the lead was back to two at 3-1 Caps with a little over 12 minutes left. The Flyers defense was dishing out bad decisions all over the place in this one, and Myers was no different with the blue line whiff on this goal.

Vrana showed off his speed yet again later in the third, taking a Sanheim turnover in on Elliott but finding the post behind the veteran to deny the speedy forward of his 23rd goal of the season.

If you needed more evidence that Holtby was the difference, he came up with one more great save on the Flyers with 2:53 left as Ryan Hartman crashed the net but was met by the Caps’ netminder. Every time the Flyers came with a burst, Holtby was there to shut it down.

Gordon would get Elliott to the bench with 2:18 left as the Flyers tried to pierce Holtby twice to find a tie game and a badly needed point. The only drama left was if Ovechkin would place his 49 goal of the season into the Flyers’ empty net, but alas this one was destined to end without anymore fireworks.

FINAL: Capitals 3, Flyers 1