It’s been trying times for the Washington Capitals this season as they have struggled out of the gate in this lockout-shortened season with just three wins in their first 12 games. But a furious third period comeback from a two-goal deficit set up an overtime winner from Troy Brouwer to deliver the Caps a 6-5 OT win against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, FL, the Caps second consecutive win over the Panthers.
The Caps (4-8-1, 9 points) got two late third period goals, from Eric Fehr and Alex Ovechkin, to force overtime, where Brouwer took a breakout pass from Nick Backstrom, drove past Panthers forward Steven Weiss down the right wing, and beat goalie Scott Clemmensen between the wickets for the game-winner.
Ovechkin’s game-tying goal came on the power play, with Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau in the penalty box for slashing, moments after the referees missed a blatant slash by Matthieu Perreault. Perreault was called for a high-sticking penalty with just 1:45 left in the game, but the Caps were able to kill off the infraction, setting up the dramatic game winner.
Ovechkin tried to get his team going early in the first period with a clean, big hit on Kris Versteeg while on the forecheck. Versteeg crumpled to the ice and eventually was helped off by trainers. But Versteeg did not miss a shift, instead when he came back to the ice he immediately found Ovechkin and cross-checked the Caps captain in the back, triggering one of the stranger “fights” of the season.
Both men received roughing minors and Versteeg got an additional two minutes for the cross-check. The Caps took advantage of the selfish play by Versteeg, notching their sixth power play goal in their last 12 attempts and Mike Ribeiro flipped a puck over Clemmensen for the early 1-0 lead. At that point, at 4:26 of the first period, the Caps held a 4-1 shot advantage.
That advantage didn’t last long. Jeff Schultz took a tripping penalty and while the Panthers didn’t score with the man-advantage, they did take every last bit of momentum away from the Caps. Florida eventually got on the board at 10:18, as a defensive zone turnover by Ovechkin led to a Tomas Fleischmann tally for the Panthers. Fleischmann shot while spinning and the original shot was not on goal, but the puck deflected off defenseman John Erskine and behind Braden Holtby for the equalizer.
The Panthers then took the lead — their first of three on the night — when Shawn Matthias’ slap shot evaded Braden Holtby (27 saves) at 13:09 of the first.
The Caps and Panthers traded two goals apiece in the second period. Karl Alzner tied the game with a slap shot from the point following a faceoff win by Joel Ward, Alzner’s first goal since Oct. 2011. A few minutes later Huberdeau notched his fourth of the year, redirecting a tip from Peter Mueller off an Eric Gudbranson shot from the point to re-take the lead. The Caps evened it up, again, when Matt Hendricks snuck a backhand shot past Clemmensen off a terrific pass from Ovechkin from behind the goal line.
That tie didn’t even hold up for the entire period, as the Panthers struck again, as the talented rookie Huberdeau scored his second of the game on a backhander with 1:34 left in the frame. Florida made it a two-goal game at 6:25 of the third on Drew Shore’s first NHL goal. The goal was reviewed, but the replay showed Shore batted the puck in out of the air with the shaft of his stick at waist height.
Fehr (goal, assist) cut the lead back to one with his first of the season, a tip-in of a shot from Mike Green at 14:53 and Ovechkin tied it up fo the last time a few minutes later, with a wicked wrist shot from the point just four seconds into the Huberdeau penalty, off an offensive-zone faceoff win by Mike Ribeiro.
It wasn’t pretty, and a lot of the problems the Caps have been experiencing this season were still fairly evident. But they showed great resolve in erasing three different leads, including the two-goal lead in the third period. Better yet, it looks like the Captain is finally emerging from his early-season slump, registering a goal — his third in the last three games — and an assist, to go along with his feisty play in the first period.
The Caps have dug themselves a deep hole with their early season struggles, but back-to-back wins over an equally bad Florida team should be enough to re-energize the team and give them a little bit of momentum as they head to Tampa to face the high-scoring Lightning for their Valentine’s Day matchup Thursday night.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP.