WASHINGTON (AP) — Unable to dress the usual 18 skaters because of injuries and other absences, the Washington Capitals rallied for one accomplishment with the playoffs on the horizon but fell short of another.
Lars Eller tied it with 39.8 seconds left in regulation, Conor Sheary scored the overtime winner and the short-handed Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 Saturday night to guarantee they’ll open the playoffs at home.
Failing to win in regulation gave the East Division title to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals locked up the No. 2 seed in the East and home-ice advantage in the first round but lost star winger T.J. Oshie to injury and got quite the scare with Tom Wilson going down in pain.
“I don’t know how we pulled it off, to be honest,” said Eller, who played a career-high 27:06. “I can’t remember ever missing so many guys and guys dropping during the game. Really a lot of guys showed a lot of character today and stepped up in different ways.”
Winning this game was quite the accomplishment given Washington’s recent run of injuries and drama surrounding key players. The Capitals couldn’t ice a full lineup because they didn’t have the salary-cap space, were missing four of their best players and handed the net over to the oldest goaltender to start a game in franchise history.
Oshie’s injury was just the latest twist in a nightmarish couple of weeks. He was injured late in the second period when he got tangled up with Philadelphia’s Nicolas-Aube Kubel, didn’t put weight on his left foot skating off, limped down the tunnel and did not return.
“It’s kind of like a ‘here we go again,’” said Sheary, who scored with 59.4 seconds left in overtime. “That’s kind of the way it’s been the last few games. … It’s never fun to see that this late in the year.”
The Capitals went into the game without captain and leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, top two centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, No. 1 defenseman John Carlson and goalie Ilya Samsonov. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson are each considered day to day with a lower-body injury, while Kuznetsov and Samsonov were unavailable because of NHL COVID-19 protocol.
“Everybody — everybody — is a lower-body injury,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We didn’t rest anybody. If we had guys that were up to where they need to be to play, we would have pushed. The lineup would have been different. We dressed all the available players for us.”
Playing that short-handed did no favors for 39-year-old Craig Anderson, who was making his first start since Feb. 23. Anderson finished with 26 saves, allowing only Scott Laughton’s goal 3:42 into the third.
Philadelphia’s Alex Lyon made 35 saves, falling seconds short of his first NHL shutout.
“Just super frustrating,” Lyon said. “As good as you play, you still give up a goal in the last 40 seconds and then you give one up in overtime and you lose the game.”
As if Wilson wasn’t already the talk of hockey after his actions during a scrum Monday at the New York Rangers, he was in the spotlight again when he collided leg-on-leg with Aube-Kubel in the first period. Wilson grabbed at his right knee and put no weight on that leg while he was helped off but returned at the start of the second.
This was the Capitals’ first regular-season or playoff game without any of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov or Carlson since Jan. 31, 2006.
Ovechkin has missed seven of the past eight games with a lower-body injury and played a total of 39 seconds over the past two weeks. His seven games out with injury and 11 total are the most of any season in his 16-year NHL career.
KEMPNY INJURED IN HERSHEY
The Capitals’ injury problems extend all the way to Hershey. Defenseman Michal Kempny, on injured reserve all season after surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendo, left a rehab game with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears because he collided with a member of the ice crew.
“I don’t think it’s too, too bad,” Hershey coach Spencer Carbery said. “Chalk that up to the weird, weird things of this year. He actually (made) incidental contact with one of the ice scrapers, believe it or not, which I’ve never seen before.”
FROM PILON TO PILON
Garrett Pilon made his NHL debut for the Capitals, giving Zdeno Chara the ability to say he played with father and son. Chara, now 44, played parts of three seasons with Garrett’s father, Rich Pilon, when he broke into the league with the New York Islanders.
Flyers: Host the New Jersey Devils on Monday in each team’s season finale.
Capitals: Await the Bruins’ result Monday against the New York Islanders to see if their game Tuesday has any meaning for Boston.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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