After rallying from a three-goal deficit before falling in a shootout to Philadelphia on Thursday, the Florida Panthers reversed that, jumping out to a 4-1 first period lead, before eventually coming up with a wild 6-5 shootout win over the Washington Capitals for their first win of the 2018-19 season.
The Panthers again proved they can be very effective... for about twenty minutes. Florida scored four goals on just eleven shots to end Braden Holtby’s night early. The Cats opened the scoring when Vincent Trocheck popped a rebound of Jonathan Huberdeau’s shot off Holtby and Lars Eller into the net. Alex Petrovic, who played a strong game throughout, drew the second assist. The Capitals tied the game 4:37 later when Eller beat Mike Hoffman to set up John Carlson, who was given too much space by Aaron Ekblad, in the low slot. It only took the Panthers 32 seconds to regain the lead with a power-play goal and it was a really nice one. All five players touched the puck before Evgenii Dadonov went top shelf to finish off Aleksander Barkov’s pass from the goal line. Trocheck collected the second assist on the play. Florida’s revamped second line struck at 16:36 after Trocheck intercepted a pass following a faceoff. Trocheck centered to Huberdeau and he neatly tapped it over to Colton Sceviour, who bagged his first of the season after his initial shot was blocked by Brett Connolly. The Cats tacked on one more when Denis Malgin knocked the puck away from Holtby after Keith Yandle put it in front and Jared McCann backhanded the garbage home for his first of the campaign. A strong forecheck by Malgin caused a turnover that led to the goal. Frank Vatrano didn’t get an assist, but he did make a nice pass to Yandle after collecting the loose puck.
The Capitals returned to the ice with rookie Pheonix Copley in the net and turned the tables on Cats, scoring three straight goals to tie the game. Jakub Vrana found Connolly wide-open down low with a gorgeous pass and the veteran ripped the puck by Reimer to halve the deficit just 1:48 into the frame. Vrana got a goal of his own at 8:38 when he finished off 2-on-1 break, and Eller’s pass, to pull the Caps within one. A poor change and a questionable bit of defending by Yandle contributing greatly, Reimer gave up a huge rebound on Matt Niskanen’s long-range floater and Devante Smith-Pelly swooped in to tie the tilt at 13:15 on his second try. Bob Boughner had seen enough, giving Reimer the hook in favor of Michael Hutchinson. The Panthers forged ahead with 51 seconds left when Dadonov’s aerial pass was deflected by the skate of Brooks Orpik and went on goal and came to Huberdeau, his intended target, and he pounded in the rebound for Florida’s second power-play goal of the night. While Washington rallied, Florida was failing on three power play attempts and only put two shots on the cold Copley before they woke up and cashed in on the late man advantage.
The Cats, shorthanded at the time, dodged a huge bullet when Alex Ovechkin rang one off the post and MacKenzie Weegar blocked away the rebound attempt. Florida’s best chance came on a Trocheck wraparound attempt that was foiled by Copley’s skate save. Weegar would be the guilty Panther in the box when the Capitals tied the game with 1:08 remaining in regulation. Eller picked up his third primary assist of the night after he took a pass down low from Evgeny Kuznetsov and then delivered a perfect backdoor strike to Nicklas Backstrom, who separated from Ekblad to sweep it by Hutchinson.
Hutchinson came up big late in overtime, stopping Dmitry Orlov and then Eller seconds later as Capitals buzzed the net. Eller, creating chances all night long, would quickly find Orlov, but his drive caught iron, keeping the Cats alive. T.J. Oshie, Barkov, and Kuznetsov would open the skills competition with goals before Nick Bjugstad missed and Hutchinson made a save on Ovechkin. Trocheck went to the backhand in the bottom of the third round to extend the game, and when Backstrom missed to open the fourth, Huberdeau finally got the Cats off the snide, wheeling in and pulling up before beating Copley five-hole along the ice.
To say it wasn’t easy is a huge understatement, but the Panthers finally got in the win column. The Cats remain wildly inconsistent, rotating between looking like world-beaters and a team that could be in Jack Hughes sweepstakes come June, depending on the particular period. It was nice to see the Panthers notch a couple of power-plays and show some hunger in front of the net. What wasn’t so nice to see was a repeat of the disaster of a second period we saw in Philadelphia. Sure, these were the Stanley Cup champs, so some push-back was expected, but to see Panthers do little to nothing to test a very inexperienced rookie goaltender in Copley for almost the entirety of the period was maddening. I’ll throw out some props to coach Bougher here. Adding Sceviour to the second line worked and is something that should be given more time to coalesce, and yanking Reimer when he did was absolutely the right move. It will interesting to see how the Cats perform tonight when they take on the league’s worst team. The Red Wings will be rested while the Panthers will be playing for second night in a row and coming off an absolute roller coaster of a road trip. Will the Panthers play down to Detroit’s level or will they finally deliver something resembling a full 60-minute effort that will let their talent shine through and even their record at 2-2-2?
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)