This was a game that the Washington Capitals had to win.
And for the first time in awhile, the Capitals came up with a win in a “must-win” game, defeating the Florida Panthers by a 2-1 score inside BankAtlantic Center on Friday night.
Riding goals from team Russian Sniper, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, in the third period, and 22 saves from Tomas Vokoun, who was fresh off a bout with the flu, Washington got done what they needed to get done in a tough building.
The game did not start out very well for the Capitals, who gave up power play opportunities often in the first period. Washington eventually got some momentum back from some shots on goal, but it was the Panthers who drew first blood, as former Capital Tomas Fleischmann was left unmarked near the top of the circles and beat Vokoun clean for a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, the Capitals absolutely dominated the shot marker. Washington was controlling the pace of play, forechecking well, and getting good chances from their fourth unit. However, Jose Theodore stood tall, making some great saves with his glove; the Caps also just missed the net on a few occasions. With less than a minute left in the period, it appeared as though the visitors had tied the game, but the goal was waved off because of interference on Mike Knuble.
The final frame finally saw the fruits of the Capitals’ labor be revealed. Earning a power play early in the frame, Alex Ovechkin equalized with a long power play strike, energizing his team, especially after such a bad ending to the middle frame. After Ovechkin’s goal, Washington continued to pressure their opponents, and finally got their go-ahead goal from Alexander Semin with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
It was a white-knuckle finish, with the Caps hanging on until the very end, but eventually Dale Hunter’s men were able to eke out an enormous road win, a game that they had to have.
This game should put to rest the whole Neuvirth-Vokoun conundrum. Vokoun has now allowed one goal in three games against his former mates and was great all night. Maybe if Hunter had had the sense to start him the other two times against the Panthers, the Caps would be in a different situation right now. But no time to cry over spilled milk.
A big game from the Russians. Both Semin and Ovechkin were very good, particularly at the end. The $17 million men were worth it for a night. Here’s hoping they can do it again Saturday night against Tampa, because we all know how badly the Caps need that game too.
And on top of all that – maybe, just maybe – the Caps are warming up to Dale Hunter. Maybe.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.