The Washington Capitals were out-shooting and out-hitting the competition with little to show for it and it looked like they were headed to an all too familiar road loss against their Southeast Division foe, the Florida Panthers. But the game plan eventually wore out Florida, and Alexander Semin changed the script with a late goal, lifting the team to a much-needed 2-1 regulation win.
With the win, the Caps trail division-leading Florida by just two points.
Trailing 1-0 at the start of the third period, the Capitals rallied with two goals, a power play marker by captain Alex Ovechkin and Semin’s slick wrist shot — deflected by a Panther defender — just over the outstretched arm of former Caps goalie Jose Theodore, giving the Caps their first lead of the game with less than seven-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Semin has been one of the Caps better players over the last few games and showed again why Friday night. The often criticized Russian winger managed to notch a goal, assist and six shots as he powered the Capitals to a come from behind victory.
It is hard to tell what is more impressive about the win, the fact it is only the second time the Florida Panthers have lost in regulation when leading after the first period, or the fact Washington was able to comeback on the road. Playing away from the Verizon Center has not been kind to the Capitals this year as they entered play with the fewest road wins in the conference and in a must-win situation, they got the two-points they needed.
Tomas Vokoun was again sharp for the Caps — making 22 saves — allowing just Tomas Fleischmann’s 19th goal of the season, a slap shot from close in with less thana minute in the first period.
The win is certainly a big one for the Caps, as they are in the midst of a four-game road trip and a stretch in their schedule where they play five of six on the road. Perhaps even larger though is the fact Washington was behind on the scoreboard for a majority of the game and still found a way to pull out a win, something they haven’t been able to do much of this season.
The team can’t look at the win as acceptable though. With another game Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are hot on their heels, the Caps have to mentally prepare themselves for another crucial Eastern Conference game. Taking two points from the Panthers only to give up two to the Lightning would not improve Washington’s standings in the East all that much. These games are also incredibly important because of what happens next week.
There has been much speculation about whether or not the Capitals will make a move before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. A major part of the decision-making process when General Manager George McPhee is presented with a trading opportunity will be where the team is in the standings. Too far out, and there is a very real possibility the team will stand pat and attempt to make the playoffs with the current roster. Move into playoff position though, and the Caps could attempt to make a run at another Southeast Division crown and a Stanley Cup by adding a piece or two.
For now though, the team should be taking each game one at a time and Friday’s win was a big game to notch in the win column. With less than 24 hours until they face the Lightning though, Washington can’t focus on the win for too long. If they do, they run the risk of winning Friday’s game in vain and will be right back where they started.