It wasn’t nearly as important as the Hyped Across America matchup later in the evening. Still, the Flyers’ game Sunday afternoon in Washington was a pretty good appetizer for Super Bowl LV.
If you’re a Flyers fan, the hors d’oeuvres probably tasted like grilled shrimp marinated in olive oil and garlic, or perhaps roasted peppers stuffed with mozzarella.
The Flyers ended a two-game losing streak as Scott Laughton registered his first career hat trick, James van Riemsdyk continued his torrid scoring streak, and Sean Couturier returned to the lineup and collected three points in a 7-4 victory over Washington at Capital One Arena.
“We came out fighting and put our foot on the gas,” coach Alain Vigneault said about the third period, which is when they blew late leads against Boston in the previous two games. “Coots’ line scored that big goal, and I thought after that, we did what we had to do. It’s a big win after losing those two games the way we did to Boston.”
Led by Couturier, the (usual) top-line center who got more minutes as the game progressed, the Flyers had all three of the third-period goals. Couturier scored two of them, including an empty-netter.
Couturier, who missed 10 games with a rib injury, centered Michael Raffl and Nic Aube-Kubel for a good portion Sunday. At the start of the third period, he was placed with Raffl and Jake Voracek.
The change worked. On the first shift of the third, the line buzzed around Caps goalie Craig Anderson, and Couturier (two goals, three points, plus-4) scored on a rebound 31 seconds into the period, putting the Flyers ahead, 5-4.
Laughton completed his hat trick by scoring on a rebound with 2:09 left to make it 6-4. His line, with Joel Farabee (three assists) and van Riemsdyk (goal, assist), had four goals and eight points.
Van Riemsdyk saluted the hard-working Laughton, 26, the line’s center and a first-round Flyers selection (20th overall) in 2012.
“He’s definitely underappreciated as far as skill and the ability he has,” said van Riemsdyk, who scored his 100th goal as a Flyer. “He definitely has good hockey sense and can handle the puck and he knows the right plays to make. Obviously, he’s been in more of a defensive role for a lot of his career, but that doesn’t mean he can’t chip in offensively. It was nice to see him get rewarded.”
Laughton said the Flyers, outshot by a 37-23 margin, did a better job closing out the game and not allowing second chances in the third period, “but I still think we can do a little bit of a better job playing north and playing with the puck and making it hard for them to exit their zone.”
Laughton scored goals 3:56 apart to tie the score at 2 early in the second.
The Flyers got to within 2-1 with 1:27 remaining in the first when Laughton scored on a rebound after the puck caromed off the crossbar and post. Just 2:29 into the second, he scored from the side of the net on a sequence triggered by van Riemsdyk’s strong defensive play down the other end.
Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the game -- and 711th of his career, six behind Phil Esposito for sixth place in NHL history -- gave the Caps a 3-2 lead less than two minutes later. The Great Eight scored on a shot from near the White House. OK, it was just inside the blue line, but Carter Hart will want it back.
Defenseman Robert Hagg joined the rush and tied it at 3, taking a slick pass drop from Aube-Kubel and beating rookie Vitek Vanecek with a one-time blast from the high slot as Raffl (plus-4) created a screen in front with 12:10 remaining in the second.
Late in the second, van Riemsdyk (pinpoint shot from the left circle), who has points in seven straight games, and Nicklas Backstrom (spin-o-rama from out front) exchanged goals as the teams headed into the third period tied at 4-4.
After allowing four goals on 14 shots, Vanecek was replaced by 39-year-old Anderson, who made his first appearance since last year.
The line of Backstrom (three points), Ovechkin (two goals, four points), and Tom Wilson (four points) combined for four goals, and 11 points.
Ovechkin had no points in five games (including the round-robin tourney) against the Flyers last year; he scored his first-ever goal Sunday against Hart.
Hart stopped 33 of 37 shots, none bigger than Nic Dowd’s shorthanded drive from the slot during an uneventful four-minute Flyers power play early in the third period.
Even in a shortened season, it may be a little premature to call the Flyers’ ongoing four-game stretch pivotal or defining.
Still, the four games against East Division powers Boston and Washington are at least an indicator of how the Flyers match up.
So far, they are 1-1-1 in that stretch, which concludes with a 6 p.m. game Tuesday in Washington.