Philadelphia Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki of Finland keeps his eyes on the puck as Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin of Russia, right, advances toward the goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009, in Washington. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Haraz N. Ghanbari
WASHINGTON - Jeff Carter was well aware he had gone a season-high five games without a goal.
Of far more concern: His Philadelphia Flyers entered Tuesday night's showdown against the Washington Capitals only four points ahead of the Eastern Conference's ninth-place team.
Reunited on a line with Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul, Carter had a goal and an assist during a three-score spurt in a 3 1/2-minute span of the third period as the Flyers rallied to beat Capitals 4-2 on Tuesday night.
"I looked at the standings before the game, and we were in the playoffs by only four points, I think," said Carter, who assisted on Hartnell's tying goal before registering the go-ahead tally against Washington goalie Jose Theodore.
"I didn't realize it. I haven't been keeping track," he said about the East standings. "It's definitely an eye-opener. We've got to come out and be ready to go every night."
The Flyers didn't look good early.
They fell behind 2-0 as Alex Ovechkin finally seemed to have figured out Philadelphia, assisting on Washington's first goal and scoring the second. The league's reigning MVP was held without a point in two previous games this season against Philadelphia, the only Eastern Conference opponent that hadn't allowed a goal by Ovechkin in 2008-'09.
But the Flyers cut their deficit to 2-1 during a 5-on-3 midway through the second period, when Claude Giroux scored. And then, suddenly, Theodore couldn't stop anything in the third.
Flyers coach John Stevens had juggled Carter's line. But in the third, he put Lupul and Hartnell back alongside him.
"I thought the line played well," Stevens said, something of an understatement.
Philadelphia tied it 9:11 into the third on Hartnell's 22nd goal. Then, 1:25 later, Carter's 35th goal put Philadelphia ahead for the first time.
Arron Asham put the final touch on the rally with his fifth goal, giving Philadelphia its season-high fourth consecutive road victory.
"We got too involved with what they were doing, rather than what we have to do," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team has lost two of its past three games. "We played pretty hard for most of the night.
"We played pretty stupid a couple times."
The Flyers appeared headed for a loss when Ovechkin stole Carter's weak clearing attempt and - while falling to the ice after being accidentally bumped by a teammate - flicked the puck past Antero Niittymaki to put the hosts ahead 2-0.
It was Ovechkin's 44th goal, and he celebrated by punching the air and kicking up a leg.
Ovechkin was in the middle of things, too, only 1:48 into the game - and four seconds into the first of the rough-and-tumble game's many power plays - as Washington went up 1-0 on Nicklas Backstrom's 16th goal.
There was some hard hitting early on, with Mike Richards and Hartnell delivering big shots along the boards. Hartnell's first-period hit on Mike Green landed the Philadelphia forward in the penalty box.
There were 13 penalties, seven on Washington, through the first two periods.
In the second period, Lupul - who scored the winning goal in overtime of Game 7 of these teams' first-round playoff series last season - was helped off the ice and toward the locker room after being knocked down by Donald Brashear.
Boudreau was dismayed by what he called his team's "selfish and stupid penalties," and said he will consider changing players' ice time and perhaps benching someone.
The Flyers, meanwhile, were pleased to see Carter back on the scoresheet.
"He's got a great shot, a deceptive shot. He's always hanging around that net," Hartnell said. "He's been putting them in for us. He's been a big catalyst for us."
Notes: Philadelphia remains the only NHL team that hasn't allowed a short-handed goal this season. The Capitals had two good 1-on-1 scoring chances while killing Flyers power plays in the first period, but failed to convert. ... Washington has scored a first-period goal in 13 consecutive games.