WASHINGTON - Whether by blowout or shootout, the Washington Capitals needed a win over the heated rival Philadelphia Flyers to give their winning streak a serious sense of accomplishment.
It happened by shootout, their seventh straight win and one supported by a home-ice crowd that - for a change - didn't leave much room for the rival fans.
The Capitals dished out some payback Tuesday night, getting a 2-1 shootout win to avenge the only loss they've had in a month and ease some of the sting from last year's first-round playoff series loss.
"Last time they beat us bad," goaltender Jose Theodore said. "We owed them a game."
Theodore made 33 saves and stopped all three shots in the shootout, strengthening his claim to the No. 1 goaltender spot. Nicklas Backstrom scored on the power play in the first period for the Capitals, and Viktor Kozlov was the only player from either team in the shootout to find the net.
Washington has won 12 of 13 and 18 of 20, its last defeat a 7-1 drubbing at Philadelphia on Dec. 20. The Capitals improved to an Eastern Conference-best 18-1-1 at the Verizon Center and have never had a better overall record at the midpoint of an 82-game season.
"It's one thing to get there; it's another thing to stay there," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We like it up there. And I think the guys like it up there, and they want to be known as one of the better teams. So it's not a question of 'OK, we got here, let's relax.' We're going to push the envelope as far as we can push it and see where it takes us. And hopefully it'll take us far."
The most startling turnabout was the atmosphere in the arena. Throngs travelling from Philadelphia usually match the home fans in noise if not in number, yet for the first time in memory the Flyers faithful were a minor blip when compared to a playoff-intensity Capitals crowd that sold out the building for the sixth straight game. Last year on this date, Washington had exactly one sellout for the entire season.
"They're starting to get some fans now, I guess," Philadelphia centre Jeff Carter said. "We can't buy all the tickets."
Perhaps the fans were feeding off Boudreau's comments Monday, when the Capitals coach said: "I don't know how much they like us, and you know we don't like them."
Boudreau also said the penalty-filled third period of the 7-1 loss resulted in part from a Flyers team that was "bummed out that their tough guy (Riley Cote) got beat up twice."
Having set the scene with words like those, Boudreau didn't have to mention the rivalry in his pre-game talk.
"Enough has been said about the 'war' between Philly and Washington, and we felt this was a business day," Boudreau said. "We wanted to be like machines and go out there and do what we're capable of doing. It's was a 50-50 game right to the end, and that's what happens when two real good teams play."
There were few penalties this time, but the hockey was intense. Braydon Coburn tied the score with a power-play goal early in the third for the Flyers, but Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were all thwarted by Theodore in the shootout. Martin Biron was also outstanding in the game, making 33 saves for Philadelphia.
The game ended a six-game road stretch (2-2-2) for the Flyers, and coach John Stevens felt it showed.
"We talked to the team about it and we all agreed that they were feeling sluggish," Stevens said. "We've had some guys injured and some of our veteran guys have stepped up and played great."
The superb goaltending kept Carter and Washington's Alex Ovechkin at 27 goals apiece, tied for the NHL lead. Both teams had 34 shots on goal.
"It's not like we came in here and outshot them 43-14 and dominated them," Boudreau said. "We won in a shootout. It's basically a tie game for 65 minutes. We feel that every game against Philly is going to be a battle."
Notes: Flyers LW Simon Gagne returned after missing two games with a shoulder strain. ... The start of the shootout was delayed when officials recalled the ice surfacing machines to fill in gaps in the surface.