The Florida Panthers picked a fine time to falter at home. After being one of the top home teams in the NHL for much of the season, the Washington Captials hung a second consecutive home loss on the Cats with Friday’s 2-1 win in a game with huge playoff implications. The Panthers entered the game with an opportunity to throw a little more dirt on Washington’s chances in the Southeast Division and extend their lead to six points. Instead, the loss shrinks the led to just two points with just twenty-five games to play and only one contest left between the teams.
The Panthers avoided the early goal against that has plagued them for much of the past few weeks as Jose Theodore would have a sensational first period (and a sensational game for that matter) by stopping all 17 shots he faced in the frame. With less than 40 seconds left in the period, it was the Panthers who would finally solve their former netminder Tomas Vokoun and take the 1-0 lead right before intermission. Tomas Fleischmann blasted a backhand Stephen Weiss pass over Vokoun’s shoulder. Even though they were outshot 17-12 in the period, it was a just reward as the Cats had the better quality opportunities.
In the second period, the quality scoring chances all but dried up for the Panthers as the majority of the play was played in their defensive zone. Neither team was able to light the lamp but the Capitals dominated the period’s shot chart, 13-4. In the frame, Theodore may have played his best period of hockey as a Panther as many of his saves were of the spectacular variety. After two periods, he’d take 30 saves with him to the dressing room.
The third period saw the Panthers have a hard time getting into the game offensively as they spent the majority of the period killing off penalties. Their first attempt was not so successful. Alex Ovechkin made the Panthers pay for not clearing the puck when they had a chance as he converted from in close to knot the game at 1 at 4:47 of the third. Washington would get the eventual game-winner at 13:27 when another Alex, this time it was Alex Semin, would make his presence known. Semin took advantage of a clear path to Theodore by firing a laser over the top of his glove to make it 2-1. Despite a few solid chances late, it was too little to late as the Capitals walk out of Sunrise with both crucial points.
After the game, Kevin Dineen was none too happy with some of the officiating. The slashing call on Mikael Samuelsson that led to Washington’s first goal was weak even by weak call standards. And there were some missed penalties by the Caps in the third period and the refs seemed content to let them lay on the puck for the final 30 second of the period without a whistle. But, I can’t lay this at the feet of the officials. The Panthers were sloppy most of the night as stringing together more than two passes for the final two periods was an uphill challenge. The fact is the Capitals, who didn’t play that great themselves, still were able to almost double up the shot effort. And even then, many of the Panther chances after the first period weren’t that much of a challenge for Vokoun. As Panther fans can tell you, Vokoun will save chances from the perimeter with no traffic all night long. And it wastes a tremendous effort from Theodore, who was a rock in his cage and played the way you need a goaltender to play in big games.
How this affects going forward remains to be seen. The Capitals seemed to only have played well against the Panthers over the past week or so whereas the Panthers reeled off three in a row following their last loss to Washington. But Florida needs to play with some sort of desperation as they haven’t gained a point so far two games into a four game home stand. And things don’t get any easier as one of the hottest teams in hockey, Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks check in Sunday at the Bank Atlantic Center. You can’t go three games into the home stand without a win. You can’t.
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Topics: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Anaheim Ducks, Bruce Boudreau, Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore, Kevin Dineen, Mikael Samuelsson, Southeast Division, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals