Cheetahs, like cats that play with their food, were simply waiting to pounce.
Florida imposed their will on the visitors with two goals late in the first half and beat the series 5-1 in one game.
The capital side, playing without injury to Tom Wilson, scored early in the second half when Niklas Backstrom beat goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky on the short side. But the high-octane Panthers answered less than 30 seconds later, then added two more hits in the final five minutes of the period to effectively close it out before the final break.
“[Stuff] “It happens,” said Captain Alex Ovechkin. “Go ahead, 1-1. … It’s a good scenario for us.”
One of the Panthers’ calling cards is their speed, but they dominated the third inning with their physicality. They dominated the area around the grid capitals, and TJ O’Shea and Trevor van Rimsdijk looked sluggish in the third inning, even though they both matched.
Bobrovsky blocked 26 of the 27 shots on his way. Vitek Vanessek, who starred in Tuesday night’s 4-2 win in the opening game, allowed five goals on 18 shots during the first 40 minutes of the game before making the way to Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov stopped 16 rounds in the final frame, facing a steady volley.
Washington will have the decision to score in the third game on Saturday. Vanessek’s performance was not encouraging, although the defense in front of him was not as tight as it should have been. Samsonov made a comfortable set of sporty tackles and looked strong in the pucker.
“I believed [Samsonov] He came and played well because I don’t think we played well in the third at all, so I thought he came and did some saves,” Capitals coach Peter Laviollette said. They had a lot of shots from outside. He should feel the goblin, so that was fine. He had to save some balls, too.”
With the series moving to Washington for Game 3, the Capitals took over the home ice advantage even if they gave up some momentum on Thursday. Capitals came out on top in the first period, but they paid for it when they went out of business near the end of the period.
“We knew it was going to be a long and difficult streak,” Ovechkin said. “Just go ahead and forget about it. It doesn’t matter the score, 1-nothing or 10-nothing, we still lose. If you compare the two games and find that they are two different games, bounce offs, you know the mistakes.”
Aaron Ekeblad gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first half after his shot from the right point rebounded strangely in the attempt to block defender Martin Vervary. The Panthers doubled their lead after about 90 seconds, with Alexander Barkov scoring on the doorstep after a superb move and a plate from Jonathan Huberdeau.
Backstrom’s goal from a poor angle along the goal line was a force play at 2:44 of the second half. Mason Marchment made the match 3-1 after just 27 seconds, defeating Vanecek from the right circle.
The Capitals had another major chance to get back into the game at 5:58, when Marchment took two light penalties to give Washington a four-minute playoff. Ovechkin played the majority of that period, but Washington couldn’t beat Bobrovsky.
“We all have to realize that everything counts in qualifying,” Backstrom said. “The margins are small, but especially after goals like that we have to be a little clearer and make sure we take care of this disc. Overall, our culling wasn’t around tonight. This is an area where we have to be better.”
He took the Panthers from there. Anton Lundell scored in 15:24 from the middle frame from a 2-0 dash in front. A little over two minutes later, Carter Verhagé made the score 5-1.
The Capitals is heading home not only with questions about purpose but health concerns as well.
Wilson did not play in Game Two after sustaining a lower body injury early in Game One on Tuesday night. Turning around after Wilson scored the first goal of the match, he seemed to take the worst blow he tried to throw at Panthers defender Mackenzie and get jealous along the boards. Wilson didn’t play then, scoring just 91 seconds of ice time of the night.
Wilson is officially listed as Day After Day, but his placement in the rest of the series is questionable. Laviolette didn’t want to speculate about his availability in Game 3.
“We always hope for the best with the players. I hope to see him on the road,” said Laviolette.
Without Wilson, the Capitals decided to put rookie Brett Leeson in the lineup. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Leason was called up Thursday morning from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.
“Brett has done a really good job for us all year in the position available,” Laviolette said.