WASHINGTON - Less than 2 months ago, the Flyers got their first glimpse at the unheralded and largely unknown Sergei Bobrovsky in a meaningless scrimmage between their rookies and the Capitals' rookies in suburban Washington.
There was no Alex Ovechkin, no Alex Semin - and no other breathtaking Russians.
Last night, playing for keeps, Bobrovsky nearly single-handedly slayed Ovechkin and Semin - idols in his home country. He probably would have if not for penalties to Chris Pronger and Sean O'Donnell in the waning seconds of regulation.
Either way, as the Flyers left Washington with a 3-2 overtime loss, Bobrovsky left with everyone knowing his name. He bailed the Flyers out on countless breakdowns and kept Ovechkin off the score sheet.
"He's a good, solid goalie," Ovechkin said. "He made some big saves. I don't think we made hard shots for him. We didn't create enough chances in front of his net. But he is pretty good."
Although the Flyers' winning streak was snapped at six games, they gobbled up three of a possible four points this weekend and are tied with Washington for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Bobrovsky fell one win short of the team record for a winning streak with the same rookie goaltender in net, set with Pelle Lindbergh in net. And his 36 saves on 39 shots were a career high. Somehow, Bobrovsky was not chosen as one of the official three stars of the game.
"I guess you could say 'Bob' got us three points this weekend,'' Pronger said. "Not our best hockey, but there was a lot of stuff we did well and a lot of stuff we can work on. To get three points out of four is pretty good."
The Flyers held leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but each time the Capitals had an answer. Washington controlled the play for long stretches, until the Flyers - who played Saturday night on Long Island - were able to kick it into gear in the third period.
With the game knotted, 2-2, Pronger was whistled for a double-minor high-sticking penalty with just 3:55 to play. O'Donnell gave the Flyers a two-man disadvantage with 19 seconds left.
"We fought hard for that one point,'' Mike Richards said. "I thought we probably could have played better, but 'Bob' kept us in the game. He had some big saves."
None was bigger than in the final 19 seconds. Bobrovsky turned aside point-blank opportunities from both Ovechkin and Semin, finding some way to get a pad on Semin's near empty-net chance.
Mike Green's power-play point shot through traffic 29 seconds into overtime was the only difference.
Not that the Flyers were skeptics of Bobrovsky's play before, but there are no more dangerous scorers in the NHL than Ovechkin, Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. He'd already shut the door on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin twice this season.
"He's definitely proven every guy in here a believer, that's for sure," Pronger said. "He keeps the game simple. It's a pretty generic term, but sometimes goalies are all over the place. He doesn't allow a lot of holes. He's got very fast legs. You can certainly never count him out on any play."
Bobrovsky was 6-1-0 with a sparkling 1.66 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during his seven straight starts. He is tied for the NHL lead in wins with established names like Jaroslav Halak and Jonathan Quick.
Last night, he clearly outdueled Braden Holtby, making his NHL starting debut.
Bobrovsky said he wasn't fazed by facing his motherland's biggest names.
"I've never played against Ovechkin," he said with the help of translator Dmitri Chesnokov. "It was very difficult and both interesting to face Ovechkin and Semin. Their shots are difficult."
Bobrovsky also said he took Pronger's words to heart - about the Flyers believing in him.
"I honestly try not to think about it, the only thing I try to think about is playing, because that's the only thing that matters, not words," Bobrovsky said. "But at the same time when a big-name player like Pronger says something like this, of course it makes me feel good."
Bobrovsky would have felt better if only the Flyers could have mustered a little more offense against the well-rested Capitals. His squad was outshot, 39-25. Fellow Russian Nik Zherdev sniped his fourth goal as a Flyer in the first period and Ville Leino redirected an Andrej Meszaros point shot in the second period.
"If we are being honest, we were probably not at our best," coach Peter Laviolette said. "The heart was there to go out and compete and battle, but we could have been better."
Now, it helps to know that a top-end talent is between the pipes - no matter what the effort is like in front.
"We are confident in him," Richards said. "That's the biggest thing, I think. When you have the confidence of a team, as a young player that he is, I think that goes a long way. You can't fake confidence. It's got to be there. And we have that in him."
Danny Briere returned to the lineup after serving his three-game suspension, forfeiting almost $238,000 in salary during the week missed . . . James van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch last night for the second straight game. He was not available to the media . . . Eric Wellwood was also a healthy scratch, his first since being recalled by the Flyers last Monday. Wellwood, 20, contributed one assist in three games.
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