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Recap: Panthers score colossal 6-3 win over Capitals

Two goals from the defense and a 29-save effort from Sergei Bobrovsky propelled the Florida Panthers to an important 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

Gustav Forsling opened the scoring at the 9:10 mark from Eetu Luostarinen and Carter Verhaeghe. After a nifty little give-and-go with Verhaeghe on the right side, Luostarinen slid the puck across to Forsling and he snapped it by Darcy Kuemper for his eight of the season.

Marc Staal notched his first as Panther 1:32 into the second to extend the lead. Verhaeghe tracked down an errant pass from Matthew Tkachuk in the right corner and then crossed back to Brandon Montour at the left point. Montour teed up Staal and he cranked a slapper past a screened Kuemper, much to the delight of Tkachuk.

Anton Lundell and Colin White went the other way after a huge Bobrovsky save on Lars Eller and Martin Fehervary couldn’t handle a subsequent centering feed from Nicolas Aube-Kubel. The pair exchanged the puck as they exited the Florida zone and then Lundell hit White in stride as they crossed the Washington blue line and he completed the rush with a beautiful backhand finish at 7:20.

The Capitals got on the board at 15:51 after keeping the Panthers pinned in their own end. After taking a short pass from Erik Gustafsson, TJ Oshie had the time and space to wind up for a slap shot that Dylan Strome, who was all alone behind Aaron Ekblad, deflected in.

Aleksander Barkov took possession of the puck after a shot-block by Givani Smith and headed up ice on a 2-on-1 break with Grigori Denisenko. Barkov had a shooting lane, so he took it and beat Kuemper with a no-look wrister from the right circle 1:12 after Strome’s goal. Denisenko will have to wait for his first NHL goal.

Florida looked to be cruising to an easy victory, but an iffy holding call on Montour at 12;21 of the third opened the door for the home team and Nicklas Backstrom made the Cats pay. A really poor play by Luostarinen turned the puck over to Gustafsson and he passed to Backstrom, who moved in from the left point and scored from the high slot with both M. Staal and Oshie providing screens.

A cross-checking call on Staal the defenseman gave the Capitals another power play and they took advantage with Kuemper pulled to make it a 6-on-4.  Oshie got in the way of Gustafsson’s shot, but the puck ended up on the stick of Evgeny Kuznetsov and he flipped it in off of Forsling to cut the deficit to one with 2:32 left on the clock.

The Panthers battened down the hatches and got an unassisted empty-netter from Lundell with 81 seconds remaining after defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk managed to keep the puck out twice.

After another Capitals turnover, Lundell took a pass from an unselfish Sam Reinhart and hit the side of the empty net, Reinhart potted the rebound for his 20th at 19:45 to complete the scoring.

The Panthers dominated most of this one, but as they are wont to do, they took their foot off the gas in the final frame and it almost cost them as the Capitals came up with a pair of power-play goals in a 4;24 span to pull within striking distance. Now up by one, Florida did a good job of pressuring the puck and Lundell gave them back some breathing room. With the win, the Panthers pulled even with Washington in points (62), but the Capitals game in hand keeps them in WC2 spot for now. The Panthers will look to add another two points to their total when they wrap their four-game road trip on Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

Stars & Stripes

  • Carter Verhaeghe earned First Star honors for his two-assist performance. Verhaeghe finished with four shots on goal and a block. His first helper got him to the 50-point plateau for the second consecutive season.
  • Marc Staal’s goal was the 50th of his lengthy NHL career. Staal had not scored since March 15, 2022, against the Edmonton Oilers while a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Erik Gustafsson assisted on all three Washington goals. Gustafsson has 26 assists, second-best to Evgeny Kuznetsov (36) on the Capitals.
  • Anton Lundell’s three points and plus-three rating were season-highs. The second-year skater is now up to 27 points in 49 games.
  • Darcy Kuemper finished the game with 30 saves. He made 18 of those in second period as the Panthers pelted him with 20 shots.
  • The Cats are two games to none in the season series. Read more about it at Japers’ Rink./