Sunrise, FL – During a homestand at the FLA Live Arena, the Florida Panthers matched up against an all too familiar opponent in the Washington Capitals.
Despite a flurry of attacks and some sloppy penalties, the Panthers held on and edged out the Capitals by a score of 5-2 in a game that was much closer than the final score makes it out to be.
A Playoff State of Mind
This is the first time Florida and Washington have met since their matchup in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
It was the Capitals who got off to an early start with a Game One victory. Florida would rally and demolish Washington in Game 2, but the Capitals would rebound with a 6-1 win in Game Three. This was the last time Washington would see success, as the Panthers took three straight games, two of which were overtime thrillers, and win their first playoff series since 1996.
Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe had a massive part in the team’s series win, scoring six goals and six assists. Florida would go on to be swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round, but still earned their first Presidents Trophy in team history for having the best regular-season record.
That was Then, This is Now
Florida entered the game with an 8-6-1 record in the midst of a five-game homestand, shutting out the Carolina Hurricanes last Wednesday, but dropping a game against the Edmonton Oilers last Saturday. This was only the Panthers second home loss, falling to Tampa Bay earlier this season.
The Washington Capitals have had even more mixed results, visiting Sunrise with a 7-8-2 record. This includes a split series against Tampa last Friday and Sunday.
A Physical Game, no Cap
The Panthers were high on offense in the first period, but it also a very physical beginning to the game with four credited hits in the first three minutes- two on Florida, and two on Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, playing in his 1,291st career game with Washington dating back to 2005.
All the while, Washington goaltender Darcy Kuemper and Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky were put to work early. After 12 shots by the Panthers, Aleksander Barkov broke through after almost six minutes, with a long-range center shot.
Cap's got it handled pic.twitter.com/WF3h2dw9mT— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) November 16, 2022
That would be all the scoring done in the first period, but it didn’t stop Florida from racking up 16 more shots, with none falling in.
At the same time, Washington managed an even amount of credited hits to shots, with all the physicality that Ovechkin and the Capitals are known for, but none of the goals to show for it.
Defense With a Capital D
If the first period could be defined by physicality, the second was generally sloppy. Washington’s Lars Eller was called for an illegal check penalty, giving Florida a power play opportunity that they were able to cash in on.
Panthers center San Reinhart, off a deep pass that bounced off of Kuemper, caught the puck midair with the back of his stick with his own back turned to the net, and slapped a shot in. The goal gave Florida a bit more breathing room for a while, up 2-0 after three minutes in the second period.
Bobrovsky had to experience a barrage of shots not long after, facing a Washington team that was hungry for a way to get back in the game. It didn’t help that defencemen Josh Mahura was penalized twice in rapid succession, leaving Florida minus a player for almost four straight minutes.
Despite the setbacks, the Panthers defense held on. Not long later, two penalties by both teams at the same time created some short-handed hockey for both teams.
It was at this time that Washington would finally have an answer on offense, as Dylan Strome bypassed the Panthers lineup and nailed a longshot from the right side.
Despite a Verhaeghe penalty less than a minute later, the Panthers kept a 2-1 lead entering a decisive third period.
The Secretary of Security at the Net
The start of the third period felt like the opposite of the first, with the Capitals being the clear aggressor on offense. Seven minutes in, Washington managed eight shots on goal with the Panthers recording only a single shot.
As it would turn out, two shots were all that Florida needed. Defenceman Gustav Forsling, from the left-side of the net, sailed a fast pass to Nick Cousins who skated by Kuemper and tucked in the third goal of the day for the Panthers.
To Washington’s credit, the next four minutes were an onslaught on Bobrovsky, who saved the majority of shots but was unable to stop Capitals defenceman John Carlson, who brought the game back to a single goal-deficit with nine minutes to go.
This was the last goal that the Capitals scored in the game as Bobrovsky and the Panthers defense bulked up and didn’t allow anything, even during another power play opportunity.
To seal the game for Florida was Verhaeghe, getting by three Washington defenders to raise the lead to 4-2 for the Panthers at the three-minute mark.
Who wants to talk about Carter Verhaeghe?? Because we do pic.twitter.com/LSiWSvtRqd— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) November 16, 2022
Washington shortly took their goalie out of the game in an effort to spark some life on offense, but Verhaeghe broke free of the Capitals attack and sank an empty netter to score his tenth goal of the season and add on to his resume against the Nationals.
This ended the game with a score of 5-2 in favor of Florida.
A Declaration of Statistics (& What’s Next)
Bobrovsky played a very solid game, having to endure 43 shots and recording 41 saves, 14 of which were during power plays.
Verhaeghe sank two goals with three minutes or less remaining in the game, totaling his goal total in seven games against Washington to eight. Barkov had a busy night as well, totaling two assists and an additional goal.
Left-wing Matthew Tkachuk, despite not scoring, makes an impact with three assists, leading the team in that category.
In a rare instance, both teams tallied up 43 shots and almost the same amount of hits. (24 to 23 in favor of Washington) Florida had to go through 12 minutes of power plays on defense, while Washington was a bit more careful, only giving the Panthers four minutes of advantages.
Florida still has two games to go in their homestand, taking on the Dallas Stars on Thursday, November 17th at 7 PM as well as the Calgary Flames on Saturday, November 19th at 4 PM. They’ll then head on the road to face the Columbus Blue Jackets the following day.
Photo | JC Ruiz