It was early in the 1999-00 season when the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the Washington Capitals’ traditional rivals, made their first visit of the season to MCI Center. Both teams were hoping to improve over their prior season’s performance. The Capitals missed the playoffs entirely in 1998-99, while the Flyers were eliminated in the first round.
Capitals Head Coach Ron Wilson had yet to settle on a left wing for the top line to complement right wing Peter Bondra and center Adam Oates. Ulf Dahlen had auditioned during training camp but had not yet appeared in a regular season game.
Rookie Glen Metropolit lasted one game on the top line before being sent to the minors, and Yogi Svejkovsky played two games at left wing on the top line. For the upcoming game with the Flyers, Wilson planned to rotate each of the left-wingers on the top line throughout the game. The rotation included Dahlen and Svejkovsky, as well as Steve Konowalchuk, who had generally been on the second line, and Chris Simon.
“I may play musical left wings. I’ll move all the left-wingers around until I find a shift where it works and then stay that way. I’ll know it when I see it, said coach Wilson. “I think [Oates and Bondra] need somebody there who is capable of carrying the puck and forechecking. That’s what the key to it is.”
Wilson’s original desire was to use Dahlen on the right side and Bondra on the left but, “Peter doesn’t want to play left wing, so that really made it hard for Ulf to play on the left side.”
In personnel notes, Dahlen would be playing his first NHL game since 1997. Svejkovsky was unable to play due to a strained groin. Defenseman Joe Reekie was returning to the lineup after missing two games with a lacerated pinkie. For the Flyers, center Rod Brind’Amour was out due to a broken left foot.
The Capitals were 1-1-1-0 going into the game while the Flyers had limped into MCI Center with a record of 0-2-1-0, and had scored just one goal so in the four games. The goalie matchup was Olie Kolzig for the Capitals and John Vanbiesbrouck for the Flyers.
Only 27 seconds into the game, Joe Reekie took a hooking penalty, putting the Flyers on the power play. Just 24 seconds later, Flyers’ rookie Simon Gagne scored his first NHL goal on the powerplay, getting assists from Mark Recchi and Eric Lindros.
This was actually the first time all season that the Flyers had held a lead. Gagne scored again at 4:31, this time at even strength, getting assists from Recchi and Mark Greig. The Caps were now down, 2-0.
The Caps closed the deficit to one goal nearly three minutes later, at 7:23, when Steve Konowalchuk scored his first goal of the season, getting assists from Dmitri Mironov and Jan Bulis. Just over halfway through the period, Richard Zednik got the game-tying goal, his first goal of the year, with assists from Bulis and Reekie.
Peter Bondra put the Capitals ahead, with his third goal of the season when he scored at 15:37. He got assists from Chris Simon and Mironov. The score was now 3-2 which was the score going into the first intermission.
At 2:38, former Capital Craig Berube roughed up Caps’ defenseman Brendan Witt and a fight between them ensued.
Steve Konowalchuk was called for goaltender interference at 8:05. Less than a minute later, at 8:57, Valeri Zelepukin scored on the ensuing power play to tie the score at 3-3.
At 12:20, Adam Burt of the Flyers and Chris Simon got in a scuffle and were both sent to the penalty box for roughing, setting up a 4-on-4 situation. Less than a minute later, at 13:09, the Flyers received a power play when Ken Klee was assessed for boarding.
As Burt and Simon exited the penalty box, Eric Lindros scored his first goal of the season, with an assist from Recchi, his fourth assist of the night. The Flyers now led 4-3 which remained the score going into the second intermission.
At 3:55, Bondra ripped a slap shot from a tight angle in the left circle which went between the legs of goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck’s legs to tie the score at 4-4. Nearly two minutes later, at 2:67, Andrei Nikolishin drew the defensemen away on a 2-on-2 break. Bondra, once again shot from the left circle and beat Vanbiesbrouck on the stick side. This put the Caps ahead at 5-4 which proved to be the game-winner.
Bondra scored the game-tying goal and the game-winning goal less than two minutes apart. This was Bondra’s 14th career hat trick, which meant that Bondra was now the team’s all-time leader, passing Mike Gartner.
The Capitals of 1999-00 were already better at coming back from second-period deficits than they were the previous season. Just two days earlier, they overcame a two-goal deficit in the final period to tie the Los Angeles Kings. During 1998-99, the Capitals were 1-34-2 when trailing after two periods.
After missing the playoffs in 1998-99, the Capitals finished first in the Southeast Division in 1999-2000, but fell in the first round of the playoffs.
The Flyers went on to lose their next two games but followed that up by winning their next four games. They had a winning record at the end of October and went on to finish first in the Atlantic Division and eventually advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
By Diane Doyle
Box Score of Game From Hockey Reference
Washington Post: Capitals Notebook Game Preview
Deseret News: Hockey Recap
Tampa Bay Tribune: Bondra Hat Trick Leads Capitals Past Flyers
Chicago Tribune: Game Story