SUNRISE, Fla – It was no secret Friday night’s game was important for both the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers. With 65 points, the Panthers were looking to take a six point lead on the Caps, while Washington was looking to close the deficit to three.
“It’s there for the taking,” Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said after the team’s morning skate. “We understand what the situation is right now and the game’s sitting there for you and it’s very clear what the picture is. We’ll see what the response is.
“There’s no masking it or pretending like this game doesn’t have a high level of importance for both teams,” he continued.
Dineen, and the Panthers, approached this game differently. He had his “game face” on. Instead of the typical jokes in the dressing room, it was very business like. It was clear the Panthers were ready for battle.
On the Washington side, it was a lighthearted optional skate, but make no mistake, they meant business as well.
“It’s a huge game for us,” Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun said after his team’s skate. “We’re in desperate mode. We need to win.”
The 17,779 fans at the BankAtlantic Center were treated to a playoff-type atmosphere, and the game lived up to all of the hype, as the Capitals edged the Panthers 2-1.
The Panthers, who had allowed goals in the opening five minutes in six of the last eight games, redeemed themselves, holding Washington scoreless through two periods, and entering the second intermission with the lead, despite being outshot 30-16.
The lead came late in the first frame, as Stephen Weiss cut around Vokoun’s net. He let go a nifty backhand pass to Tomas Fleischmann, who was cutting into the left faceoff circle. He lifted a one-timer past Vokoun to make the score 1-0 Florida.It was Fleischmann’s 19th goal of the season, putting him just four shy of his career high in the 2009-10 season.
Florida began to falter in the second, as they were outshot 13-4. Washington was gaining steam, but José Théodore was solid in net. In all, he stopped 39 of 41 shots and earned the second star of the game.
In that period, Mike Knuble was camped in front of the net, trying to tip a puck in. The Puck made its way into the back of the net, but he was called for goaltender interference in the crease, and the goal was disallowed with Knuble spending two minutes in the sin bin.
The Panthers’ real vice in the final frame was penalties. On one hand, the Capitals got away with two infractions, saving the game for them. Florida played eight minutes of penalty kill in the third, with Mikael Samuelssom’s slashing call 4:16 into the period leading to the equalizer.
“It’s never a good thing,” defenseman Brian Campbell said of the penalty trouble. “This kind of messes up the rotation of the guys.
“Almost half the period, we were shorthanded. [penalty killers] have to play more minutes, some guys [non-penalty killers] don’t play. It’s never a good thing.”
Alex Ovechkin; who has been ridiculed by many, including former Caps goalie Olaf Kölzig, for taking advantage of his “rock star” status, was in desperate need of a goal. 4:47 into the third, the weight came off his shoulders, as Ovechkin corralled the loose puck to the left of Théodore. He took the easy shot and scored to make it a 1-1 tie. Ovechkin’s 24th goal didn’t come without controversy, as one of the Capitals in front knocked Mike Weaver down with a stick to the face. He stayed down before being helped off the ice. Weaver did return later, but the penalty was not called, allowing Ovechkin’s goal to stand.
“A guy gets hit in the face and we get possession of the puck,” Dineen said. “That’s something the officials will hopefully take a look at and they’ll be better about.-.-. Not make those mistakes in the future.”
The game remained knotted at one until the 13:27 mark of the frame, as Alexander Semin ripped a slap shot from behind the left faceoff circle towards the right top shelf past Théodore’s glove, to give the Capitals the 2-1 lead, and ultimately the win. The puck appeared to take a funny bounce off Semin’s stick, as Théodore waved the glove around, hoping to find the loose puck.
This one was not over until the final buzzer, as the Panthers had possession in their offensive zone with an extra skater for most of the final minute. They also won two offensive zone faceoffs in the final ten seconds, but Washington’s defense was up to the task, and they used the body to keep the desperate Panthers from getting a shot on net, leading to late pushing and shoving after the final horn. No punches were thrown and no penalties were assessed, but there is little doubt that the excitement from the final minute will carry over to the final meeting between the two Southeast Division rivals on April 5 in Washington. While this game was important for both teams, a trip to the playoffs could be on the line in the second-to-last game of the season for both teams.
- Florida drops their first game (in regulation) after leading through two periods. They are no 16-1-4 with the advantage after two.
- Hockey Royalty was in the building, as both Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr took in the Panthers-Capitals game.
- Linesman Andy McElman took a puck to the face along the boards at the Capitals bench a little more than five minutes into the third period. He was rushed to the medical room in the Panthers locker room, but there is no further update on his condition. He did not return, and the two teams played with two referees and one linesman for the remainder of the game.
- John Madden missed the game with a lower-body injury. He is expected to miss two weeks.
- Florida returns to the ice at 11:30 tomorrow at the Saveology Iceplex in Coral Springs in advance of their game against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
1. Alexander Semin (WAS) GWG
2. José Théodore (FLA) L, 39 SV
3. Tomas Fleischmann (FLA) G