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Opener of Flyers-Capitals proves a physical series is ahead

After Game 1 of Flyers vs. Capitals, a physical series is ahead. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At the end of the Washington Capitals’ 2–0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the carnage count included one injured player, two whaling heavyweights and the bloodied mouth of defenseman Brooks Orpik, and that’s without mentioning the five extra penalties levied once the final horn blared.

Those four roughings and one game misconduct, purely ceremonial in practice but still logged among the 56 minutes whistled Thursday night, came after Flyers forward Brayden Schenn decked Karl Alzner at the buzzer, knocking the Capitals blue-liner off his feet. This, of course, sparked one last round of face-washing and shoulder-shoving, because evidently the opener of these Eastern Conference quarterfinals needed more chippiness before everyone went home.

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“That’s the type of series it’s going to be,” Schenn said later. “It’s going to be physical.”

Not that anyone expected a pillow fight between the Presidents’ Trophy winners and their closest geographical foe, the Eastern Conference’s juggernaut No. 1 seed and the underdogs who punched their postseason ticket in their final game. No, these are the Capitals and the Flyers, opposing each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008. Charging, boarding, slashing, roughing, fighting – all were on the menu anyway, even before Game 1 adrenaline kicked into consideration.

“I don’t think a lot of us slept last night,” said Flyers forward Ryan White, who picked up a dozen extra minutes of punishment at the end. “You’re so excited to play, I think the biggest goal is trying to not play the game before the puck drops, not getting your emotions too high, trying to stay even-keeled. Everyone’s excited. We want to win the Cup. They want to win the Cup. They’re in their own barn. We’re all amped up.”

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Said Washington defenseman John Carlson: “I think it carries over every time we play each other. It’s obviously a different set of rules with playoff hockey. Sometimes it’s unexpected, sometimes it’s not, but at the end of the day we know the rivalry between the two teams, we know tensions run high sometimes… I just think we did a good job maintaining our heads and making sure we didn’t get ahead of ourselves or do something stupid just because we were a little angry.”

It took more than cooler heads for the Capitals to assume a 1–0 series lead, though. They needed goals from Carlson, whose power-play slapper deflected in traffic and skittered past Steve Mason, and forward Jay Beagle, whose on-the-rush laser clinched the win late in the third. They calmly killed three first-period minors, then snuffed out one more midway through the middle frame. They padlocked the defensive zone in front of Braden Holtby, allowing just eight pucks to reach their goaltender over the final 40 minutes and preserving the shutout once Mason emptied his post.

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But they also benefited from the physicality. In the first period, Alex Ovechkin leveled Sean Couturier into the boards and knocked Philadelphia’s best defensive center from the game with an upper-body issue; though the Flyers said Couturier would undergo further evaluation, one report claimed he would miss the rest of the series.  

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Then, with seven minutes left and Washington ahead 1–0, Wayne Simmonds objected to Tom Wilson’s boarding penalty and fought his summer training partner, earning both an early trip into the locker room. Simmonds led the Flyers with 32 goals in the regular season, more than double Wilson’s career total. The winner of that particular exchange was clear.

“That’s historically part of the Flyers,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They try to do things to change the momentum. I thought we stayed pretty disciplined tonight. I don’t think we have to address it. We have enough leadership in here. We know the tricks. If the game’s not going well, they’re going to do something to try to change the momentum. That’s part of the game. It might depend on how the game’s going. They have that ability to play physical and get after you.

“That’s okay. That’s part of the fun, part of the playoffs.”

In other words, buckle up. It’s fixing to be a bumpy ride.

“I think you’re going to see more of it as the series goes on, as guys start to develop hate for one another, guys are going to get more physical,” Schenn said. “We got a taste of what it’s going to be like.”