While the Washington Capitals have dominated the Florida Panthers in the last two years at Verizon Center, Thursday night the Caps took it to a whole new level in a 7-1 destruction of their Southeast Division foe.
The Capitals scored four times in the first 8:10 of the contest – second-fastest time to the four-goal mark in team history – and crushed the Panthers to move within a game of the .500 points mark for the first time since the team’s home opener back on January 22 – when they were 0-1.
Washington has outscored Florida 23-3 in their last five meetings at Verizon Center, with three shutouts, and overall have scored 18 goals in three games against Florida, 27 percent of their season’s production. More importantly for the Capitals, they moved to within six points of the Southeast lead with Carolina’s 4-2 loss to Montreal.
Even with the fast start, the Capitals weren’t overly satisfied, feeling luck played a bit in being staked to a big lead just over eight minutes in.
“We actually feel in the first part of the first period, we were getting outplayed,” Troy Brouwer said. “[The Panthers] came out really hard. We had a couple of nice bounces as far as our luck goes and were able to take it from there.”
It was fairly evident it wasn’t going to be Florida’s night when John Erskine unleashed a shot from the blueline that eluded Panthers starter Jacob Markstrom just 1:58 into the contest, one the young Swedish goaltender should have stopped easily.
Just 1:12 later, Wojtek Wolski scored a goal by putting the puck past Markstrom coming out from behind the cage, and Scott Clemmensen was summoned by Panthers coach Kevin Dineen to try and shift momentum.
“The [Panthers were] shocked,” Alex Ovechkin said. “I think they started to very well, then first [goal], second one, of course it’s a little bit of luck, but we need a bit of luck right now.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Markstrom said. “I couldn’t stop the puck on the first two shots. It’s no excuse for that. It was terrible.”
The goaltending change didn’t change the momentum, or Florida’s luck, as John Carlson made it 3-0 with just 5:38 gone in regulation, blasting a puck past Clemmensen for his fourth marker of the season, tops among Caps defensemen.
Mike Ribeiro then made it 4-0 8:10 into the frame by converting a nice pass from behind the net by Ovechkin, and giving the Capitals their fastest four goals to start a game since beating the North Stars 7-5 back in January, 1986.
“If [it] stays 3-0, if they come back 3-1, it’s a different game,” Ribeiro said. “To be able to put the fourth [goal] … we were able to put the game away right there.”
Staked to the four-goal lead, the Capitals took their foot off the gas, and actually outshot by the Panthers 12-4 in the second period as the team played with the large lead.
“When it’s a game like this it’s very difficult,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “You know we’ve been there and it’s hard and it’s the same intensity in the building, you can feel it.”
The Caps did show a bit more fire after Tyson Strachan was given a major interference call for a hit on Jason Chimera. With the ensuing power play, Ovechkin blasted his ninth goal of the season early in the advantage. Chimera did return to action after being down on the ice and heading briefly to the Capitals’ dressing room.
Fehr boosted the lead 4:08 into the third with a power-play goal, then after a Matt Hendricks goal was washed out, Washington closed out the scoring with :59 left when Mathieu Perreault roofed a puck past Clemmensen for the 7-1 final.
As the dust cleared, Ovechkin had a goal and two assists to reach the 20-point mark on the year, while Riberio moved to 28 points on the year with his goal and two assists, putting him at over a 100-point pace in an 82-game schedule.
In what almost assuredly is the last Southeast Division matchup in Washington between the two teams, the Panthers certainly will be happy to see it end.
For the Capitals, they moved to 10-11-1 on the year, and now are 8-3 in their last 11 games, after going 2-8-1 in their first 11 games. Washington will try to even their record up Saturday afternoon in Nassau Coliseum, but Karl Alzner said the Caps have bigger goals.
“[The goal is] to get above .500,” Alzner said. “We started so bad, it was a big hole to climb out of. We’re just happy we’re winning games right now. We don’t want to be a .500 team, we want to be an above-.500 team.”
“Guys know we need to get points here no matter what,” Brouwer said. “The situation if such we’re playing Boston, a first-place team or tied with Florida. we need to get points, doesn’t matter who it’s against.”