WASHINGTON – The Capitals entered the NHL when the Philadelphia Flyers were at the height of their powers.
The "Broad Street Bullies" pummeled Washington in the 1970s. It took the Capitals seven years to even win a game in regulation against their I-95 rivals. Even when they finally built a consistent winner in the early 1980s, the Flyers were almost always good, too.
Philadelphia made the Stanley Cup playoffs 34 times in 43 years, reached the Cup Final eight times and has won it twice. So only once before has Washington done what it has a chance to do Sunday when the two teams meet at Capital One Arena: sweep the season series.
The Capitals (43-24-8, 94 points) lead the Metropolitan Division by one point and need a win to maintain that position after consecutive losses at home. The game is at 12:30 p.m. on NBC.
The one and only time Washington swept Philadelphia came in 2006-07 – Alex Ovechkin’s second season in the NHL. That was a particularly bad year for the Flyers, who went 22-48-12 and with 56 points finished with the worst record in the NHL. The organization had made the Stanley Cup playoffs 28 times in the previous 33 years. It wasn’t used to losing and certainly not that often to the Capitals.
Washington went 4-0 that season against the Flyers and outscored them 20-9. Ovechkin had six goals and five assists in those games. This year’s version is nowhere near that bad. Philadelphia is 36-31-8, but after Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders they are stuck on 80 points, which is five out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just seven games to go.
If they do miss, as expected, the losses to the Capitals will hurt. The Flyers are 0-3-0 and have allowed 15 goals to Washington. And that is despite holding Ovechkin to a goal and two assists. Here are other things to watch for in Sunday's game:
Capitals recall Lewington
With defenseman Michal Kempny out indefinitely, Washington recalled Tyler Lewington from AHL Hershey on Saturday. But will he have to play? Maybe not on Sunday. Christian Djoos took Kempny’s spot in the lineup in Friday’s loss to Minnesota and is expected to remain in the lineup. But Lewington's presence provides insurance on a team where illness has struck in recent days. This is Lewington’s second call-up this season. He made his NHL debut on Dec. 22 and in a Dec. 29 game at Ottawa had a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, an assist and a fight.
One of those players who have fallen ill is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who missed practice Saturday with an illness and was sent home. If he isn’t able to play then Lars Eller would bump to the second line to play center with Carl Hagelin and T.J Oshie. Hagelin was on the ice on Saturday, but the veteran winger was a late scratch with an illness against the Wild on Friday. The third line could be Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly with Travis Boyd taking over for Eller. Keep an eye on Kuznetsov’s energy level if he does play. Capitals coach Todd Reirden didn’t rule him out.
Ovechkin’s chase for 50
The chase continues for Ovechkin, who sits at 48 goals to lead the NHL. Ovechkin has two assists in the past three games, but no goals. Washington is 1-1-1 during this stretch. Ovechkin is seven points away from his first 90-point season since 2009-10.
With the lead over the Islanders down to one point with seven games to go, keep an eye on New York’s home game Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes. That is a 3 p.m. start. The Capitals are seeking their fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division crown.
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