PHILADELPHIA -- If the season ended today, even if it ended tomorrow, the top-seeded Capitals would play the eighth-seeded Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I think the probability for us playing them is 48 percent. We were told that (Tuesday),” Capitals forward Jay Beagle said as the Caps prepared to face the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m., NBCSN). “So, it’s going to be a hard-fought playoff game. All year we talk about sending a message to our opponents and give them nothing.”
The Caps (54-16-5, 113 points) have won two of their three meetings against the Flyers (37-25-13, 87 points), who are tied with the ninth-seeded Detroit Red Wings in points but hold two games in hand. The Flyers are 11-3-2 in their last 16 games but they admit the Caps will be quite a test.
“It’s not one of the best teams in the league,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said of the Capitals, “it is the best team. Everybody knows that. They play like it. We beat them on the road. There’s no reason we cannot beat them tonight. We’ve just got to make sure we do our things and focus on ourselves. We can beat any team.”
While not everyone agrees that a message can be sent by either team in tonight’s game, they all agree it should be an emotional and physical game. The Flyers rank sixth in the NHL in hits; the Caps rank 11th.
“I think if you go in there and leave a mark psychologically it could have a carryover if we started against them,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Capitals center Mike Richards has been on the other side of a playoff series between the Caps and Flyers. He was a top-line center on the Flyers’ team that ousted the Caps in the first round of the 2008 playoffs on Joffrey Lupul’s overtime goal in Game 7.
“It’s a unique situation with us already having clinched and them battling, so you obviously want to throw your best effort out there and play the way you can,” Richards said. “You don’t want to be limping into the payoffs. You want to hit your stride.”
This will mark Richards’ first game in Philadelphia as a Capital and he says it carries no special meaning to him considering he was traded from Philadelphia five years ago in the deal that sent Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn to the Flyers.
“It will probably be a standard game,” he said. “We’re starting to play a little better and putting more focus on defensive hockey, which is what you need to win in the playoffs. I think everybody is excited to get that started, but we have to use the games we have left to our advantage.”
Alex Ovechkin, who has just two goals in his last 12 games, said he’s always enjoyed playing in Philadelphia. In 40 career games against the Flyers he has 30 goals and 17 assists.
“Tough building to play, obviously,” Ovechkin said. “Fans always support them. It’s a fun building. They’re in a tough situation, fighting for a playoff spot , and it’s good for us. It’s going to be a type pf playoff game.”
With Michael Neuvirth sidelined with a lower body injury, Flyers goaltender Steve Mason is expected to see make his 12th start in 13 games. He’s gone 7-2-2 in his last 11. The Flyers also signed goaltender Ray Emery to a professional tryout contract and could eventually give him a start instead of putting rookie Anthony Stolarz into his first NHL action in the midst of a playoff push.
“It’s a huge game for them,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They’re playing for their playoff lives and that’s a good situation for us to help us get battle ready and get into that mode as well.”