Recap: Top line clicks in Panthers 5-2 win over Capitals

Barkov, Tkachuk and Verhaeghe combine for eight points

The Florida Panthers found the back of the net and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky delivered a quality start with 41 saves in a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals at FLA Live Arena.

Florida’s top line did most of the heavy lifting. Carter Verhaeghe scored a pair of late goals to the put the game out of reach; Aleksander Barkov opened the scoring with an unassisted first period goal and added two assists; and Matthew Tkachuk got back on a 100-point pace with three helpers.

Barkov opened the scoring at 5:45 after Verhaeghe took control of a turnover and then had his centering attempt blunted. Alex Ovechkin tried in vain to stab the loose puck out of the zone, but it ended up on Barkov’s stick and he curled into the middle before beating Darcy Kuemper with a wrist shot that the keeper got a piece of.  It was the only one of 22 first period shots that the Cats got by Kuemper.

The Panthers cashed in on their only power play opportunity of the game 3:46 into the second. With the Cats on the rush, Tkachuk’s cross ticked off Sam Reinhart’s blade in the slot before finding Aaron Ekblad on the other side. Ekblad ripped a high shot off Kuemper and Reinhart was able to backhand the rebound out of the air for his third of the season.

Dylan Strome got Washington on the board with 4:56 left in the frame when he took an entry pass from Joe Snively and wristed a shot that Marc Staal got a stick on, sending it soaring over Bobrovsky and into the top corner of the net. John Carlson got the secondary assist on the goal that came with the teams skating 4-on-4.

Nick Cousins would bag the first of three Florida goals in the third period at the 7:02 mark. After Cousins jostled the puck free from Martin Fehervary behind the net, Tkachuk took possession and fed Gustav Forsling at the opposite point. Forsling found Cousins open in front, and he maneuvered around Kuemper before making the forehand deposit.

The Capitals cut the deficit back down to one 4:13 later on a delayed penalty when Erik Gustafsson took a feed from Anthony Mantha before slipping a perfect pass between the legs of both Patric Hornqvist and Marc Staal for Carlson to redirect past Bobrovsky.

Verhaeghe gave the Panthers some breathing room with three minutes left on the clock. A screaming centering pass from Brandon Montour found Carter on the left side. His initial shot was blocked by Nick Jensen then struck Barkov in the skate before Verhaeghe chipped it home on the backhand.

With Kuemper off for an extra attacker, an unselfish Tkachuk took an outlet pass from Barkov and then sent the puck over to Verhaeghe to fire into the empty net to clinch it. Verhaeghe became the first Panther to hit double-digit goals this season.

After seeing Spencer Knight start three-straight games, Bobrovsky returned to the net and got the win. Bob made a big save on right off the bat, getting just enough of the puck to send it into the far side post. He made another dandy on a Carlson backhander in the second period with Capitals on the power play as the Panthers went 5 for 5 on the penalty kill. Yes, Saturday’s loss to the Oilers was frustrating, but the Cats bounced right back and have now won four of their last six. They’ll need another strong effort on Thursday when they host the Dallas Stars, who were beaten in overtime last night by Tampa Bay.

Stars & Stripes

  • Florida’s first line combined for three goals, eight points and plus-nine rating. Verhaeghe registered a team-high five shots while Barkov put four on the net.
  • Matthew Tkachuk’s first assist, on Sam Reinhart’s goal, was his 400th NHL point. Tkachuk’s playmaking skills have him up leading the team with 15 assists and 20 points.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky raised his record to 4-4-1 in large part due to a stellar third period that saw him stop 21 of 22 shots as the Capitals tried to rally.
  • Big game for Washington defenseman John Carlson, who in addition to scoring one and setting one up, registered game-highs with seven shots on goal and four blocks.
  • Paul Maurice became the fourth NHL coach to reach 1,700 games (Scotty Bowman, 2,141; Barry Trotz, 1,812; Joel Quenneville, 1,768). Nice to see him get the win to go along with the milestone.
  • The Panthers held Alex Ovechkin, who had three shots and four hits, off the scoresheet. Ovechkin has gone four games without a goal, his longest drought of the season.
  • Florida got the win in the first post-postseason matchup with the Capitals. Read more about it at Japers’ Rink./