|Yup, business as usual. Now we cooking with gas.|
The Caps got off a to a good start, as Marcus Johansson used his speed to draw a penalty just 57 seconds into the game. Washington took immediate advantage of the man up situation, scoring 23 seconds in when Mike Knuble tipped a Brooks Laich shot past Scott Clemmensen at 1:20. DC continued to press immediately after their goal, but were unable to pierce Clemmensen again, and Florida began to regain their footing and mount some pressure of their own. Their pressure was rewarded at 5:59 when Tyler Sloan was boxed for holding, but the Caps' penalty kill stood tall. After the penalty expired, the Caps got a little bit of attack going, but the Panthers continued to carry the play for the most part, outshooting DC 12-4 midway through the frame. The Florida pressure got them another power play at 10:32 when Brooks Laich was given the gate for holding the stick, but this time, it took several great saves from Semyon Varlamov to hold off a dominant Panthers man advantage. The game then settled into a bit of back and forth action, with both teams creating some chances. With 2:49 remaining in the period, Matt Hendricks and Ryan Carter were both sent off for matching minors, creating some 4-on-4, but Florida was whistled for another penalty at 18:16 to give DC a power play. The Caps converted on this one, too, as Jason Chimera poked another one past Clemmensen at 19:23 for a two goal lead, and they headed to the locker room with that lead intact after 20 minutes.
The second period saw a slow start from both teams, as neither side seemed to intent on making an immediate push. Nevertheless, the Panthers were called for another penalty at 3:54 when Michael Repik was sent off for tripping in the offensive zone. The Caps were unsuccessful on the power play, however, and the Panthers again tried to get offensive pressure going with rushes up ice that the Washington defense had to be sharp on to break up. As the middle part of the stanza approached, the game again shifted into more back and forth, with neither team really making much happen as the Caps tried to shut the game down a little bit. That changed a little over halfway through the period, however, when Alex Ovechkin roared in on the Florida defense and dropped a pass to Sean Collins, who ripped it past Clemmensen for a 3-0 lead at 11:42. The Panthers came right back with a great chance off the stick of David Booth, but Semyon Varlamov responded beautifully with a nice blocker save to keep the lead at three. But DC was rewarded another power play soon after, as Mike Santorelli was boxed for interference at 16:04. Mike Knuble was called for high-sticking just 47 seconds into the power play, however, sending the game to more four-on-four. Nothing came of the next two minutes, however, and the middle frame ended with the Caps ahead 3-0.
The third period got off to another slow start, with both teams not doing much as the Capitals really began to shut the game down by playing a full trap. With about 15 minutes left in the period, John Erskine crushed Ryan Carter in the corner, a scary moment, as the Florida forward had to be helped off the ice, but seemed to be OK. Washington then extended their lead to 4-0 when Matt Hendricks buried a nice pass on the short side from Boyd Gordon at 6:37, putting them in the drivers seat. As the third period continued, Bruce Boudreau began to rest his stars in uniform, as Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble, and Alex Ovechkin began to play rather sparingly. Jason Chimera was not spared however, and got a nasty cut above his eye and a bruise on his arm after a hefty collision at center ice with about ten minutes left. Boyd Gordon was called for delay of game at 12:48, and the Panthers finally broke through at 13:44 when David Booth ripped one past Semyon Varlamov to spoil the shutout. The Panthers scored again after a period of pretty slow hockey at 18:29 as Mike Santorelli scored on a wrister past Varlamov, and Peter DeBoer pulled his goalie with 80 seconds left in a desperate attempt to tie. But Alex Ovechkin knocked in the empty netter with about 30 seconds left to seal the deal.
Semyon Varlamov may have lost his shutout bid late in the game, but he kept the Caps in the game early and was nothing short of sensational in the first period. He got his first win at home in a long time too, and that had to feel good. Regardless of his great play, however, I think we see Michal Neuvirth on Saturday night for the regular-season finale and in game one of the playoffs. But this is Bruce Boudreau. You never know.
This was a very nice win in many ways. For one, like I mentioned up top, the Caps did this with two defensemen in the lineup that hopefully will come nowhere near seeing ice in the playoffs. They were also missing Jason Arnott and Alexander Semin, and managed to make the power play work very well without those two big pieces and Mike Green, which is very big news. When healthy, we are scary folks. Duh.
About that power play - two goals tonight and the Caps are now five for their last seven in power-play opportinities. They are moving the puck well, getting open shots, and not hesitating to create when they don't have ideal passing lanes. Mike Green will help it when he returns. As will Alexander Semin and Jason Arnott. The power play has to be a lethal weapon in the playoffs, and it looks like it is finally heating up. Amen.
The Capitals will likely have tomorrow off before returning to the ice for practice on Friday morning. Their regular season finale is Saturday night in Florida, and that game is scheduled for a 7 P.M. start.