WASHINGTON - The 12 stitches Mike Richards needed in and around his nose provided a bit of a lift for him and the new-look Philadelphia Flyers.
Bloodied but unbowed by a fight, Richards returned to score the tiebreaking goal Friday night, helping Philadelphia finally beat the Washington Capitals 3-2, even though Alex Ovechkin scored for the eighth consecutive game against the Flyers.
"I don't look very good right now. I'm not too attractive," Richards said after registering his eighth goal, just three shy of his career high.
Asked if his fight with Brooks Laich late in the first period inspired him, Richards replied: "Twelve stitches does, for sure. ... It just seemed to get us going."
Daniel Briere and R.J. Umberger also scored for the Flyers, while Antero Niittymaki made 24 saves in his second start of the season for Philadelphia, which had not defeated Washington since February 2006. The Capitals earned the franchise's first sweep of the Flyers by winning all four games between the teams last season.
But as Capitals coach Glen Hanlon emphasized before the game, these Atlantic Division-leading Flyers are hardly the same club that finished last in the NHL in 2006-07.
"They're definitely a different hockey team," Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig said after facing 23 shots over the last two periods. "They just seem like they're playing with confidence. They're definitely a better hockey team, but so are we."
Perhaps, but while Philadelphia is off to an 8-4 start, Washington has lost eight of its past 10 games after opening 3-0.
"Disappointing but not discouraging," Hanlon said. "We'll fight on."
Ovechkin's goal, on a slap shot three seconds into a power play, cut Philadelphia's lead in half with a little more than four minutes left in the penalty-and fight-filled game, but Washington couldn't tie it.
His is the longest active scoring streak by any player against one team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Things didn't look good early for the Flyers. The Capitals took 14 of the game's first 17 shots, and the pressure paid off 7½ minutes in, when Tomas Fleischmann scored his second goal of the season by knocking the puck out of the air from near the right post to make it 1-0. Rookie Nicklas Backstrom earned his sixth assist.
"That kind of warmed me up a little bit," said Niittymaki, who evened his record at 1-1.
There was a total of 46 minutes in penalties and no fewer than four fights, plus plenty of pushing and shoving after nearly every whistle. After fighting with Washington's Brian Sutherby in the second period, Flyers enforcer Ben Eager appeared to make a throat-slashing gesture as he sat down in the penalty box.
"We play the game hard, but within the rules. Other than a couple of minor blips, we just try and outwork the teams," Richards said. "We play a hitting style, a checking style where we try to turn pucks over. I don't think it's 'Bullies."'
He left the ice with blood streaming down his after his skirmish with Laich. Less than 30 seconds later, Kolzig used his stick to take a whack at Briere's leg in front of the net, drawing a penalty.
Briere, booed every time the puck was on his stick because of his battles with Ovechkin last season, tied it 1-1 about eight minutes into the second period. Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn intercepted the puck and redirected it up to Briere to start a Flyers rush the other way. Briere passed off to his left to Umberger, then skated unimpeded between two Capitals to tap in a return pass for his fifth goal.
Philadelphia went ahead on a similar sequence. Joffrey Lupul passed to Richards, who sent the puck over Kolzig's shoulder to make it 2-1 with about five minutes remaining in the second period. It was Richards' third consecutive game with a goal.
Umberger added an insurance goal on a power play 1½ minutes into the third period.
"We feel like we have a really good skating team. We have size. We have speed," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "We try to push people off the puck. Our goal is to do that."
Notes: Flyers D Randy Jones completed his two-game suspension. ... The Capitals again were missing three key injured players: D Tom Poti (groin) and Fs Alexander Semin (ankle) and Chris Clark (ear).