Capitals Drop Game 2 to Panthers, Come Home With Split

After the Washington Capitals recorded a 4-2 upset in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday (May 3), the Panthers found their scoring touch on Thursday in Game 2 with a 5-1 win, despite being outshot most of the night, to even the series at a game apiece.

While Vitek Vanecek was able to hold serve with Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 1 for his first career Stanley Cup playoff win, he was badly outplayed by his counterpart on Thursday, contributing to the loss. Vanecek allowed five goals on the first 15 Panthers shots he saw, which put the Capitals in a big hole by the end of the second period that they couldn’t overcome.

Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals
Vitek Vanecek allowed five goals on 18 shots in 40 minutes. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Despite the ugly loss in Game 2, the Capitals still come home with a split with the Presidents’ Trophy winners and have home-ice advantage for what’s now a best-of-five series between the two teams.

Certainly, the Capitals would have liked to have grabbed a 2-0 lead, but despite the lopsided score, they didn’t turn in as bad an effort as the final score indicated. The loss was more a product of bad luck and sub-par goaltending in a game the Panthers badly needed to win.

Road Effort Limited Panthers’ Shots, But Bad Goals Led to Blowout

Washington put together another solid road game early on and slowed down the Panthers’ chances in most of the first period, but a tough break and a nifty play allowed the Presidents’ Trophy winners to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Capitals limited the high-powered Panthers to just six shots in the frame – but allowed a pair of goals late to put themselves in a 2-0 hole at the first intermission. Late in the period, the Panthers led for the first time in the series as Aaron Ekblad’s shot was partially blocked by Martin Fehervary, but changed direction enough to beat Vanecek with 3:40 left in the frame. Just 1:38 later, Jonathan Huberdeau fed Aleksander Barkov at the far post for a 2-0 lead despite the gap in shots.

Washington got on the board early in the second period with a power-play goal 2:44 into the frame, as Nicklas Backstrom took an Alex Ovechkin pass and beat Bobrovsky with a bad-angle shot from just off the goal line. However, the Panthers answered right back just 27 seconds later to restore the two-goal edge, as Mason Marchment beat Vanecek five-hole with a shot he probably should have had.

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals
Nicklas Backstrom briefly put the Capitals within one, but it was short-lived. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Vanecek certainly wasn’t all at fault for the goals, allowing three goals on seven shots was a bad omen for the Capitals’ chances on the evening. They had a golden chance to chip away at the Panthers’ lead and get back into the contest shortly after with Marchment taking a pair of ill-advised penalties on Nick Jensen, but despite four shots on Bobrovsky they couldn’t get any closer, as their best chance to climb back into the contest went by the wayside.

The Panthers’ penalty-killing really sapped the Capitals’ momentum, as the game eventually got away from them late in the frame. They ended up sealing the win with a pair of goals late in the second period, as a rare defensive breakdown by the Capitals led to a 2-on-0 break for Florida, as Sam Reinhart fed Anton Lundell in front for a 4-1 lead with 4:36 left in the period. Carter Verhaeghe then made it 5-1 just 2:08 later, and the Panthers had five goals on 15 shots, at least two of which Vanecek probably should have stopped.

The Capitals pulled Vanecek to begin the third, with him surrendering five goals on 18 shots, and put in Ilya Samsonov. With the game in little doubt, the Panthers were able to pile up the shots, recording more in the first half of the third than they had in either of the first two periods.

With the game out of reach, the Capitals also didn’t put up much of an attack in the third either, allowing the Panthers to record 17 shots on Samsonov, which he turned away as the teams ran out the clock.

“I thought [Samsonov] came in and played well because I don’t think we played very well in the third at all, so I thought he came in and made some saves,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette told the media. “They had a lot of shots from the outside. He got to feel the puck, so that was good. He had to make a couple saves as well” (from “Panthers get their tails up, even series with Capitals”, The Washington Post, 5/5/22).

Game 3 Saturday in Washington

Now, the scene shifts to Capital One Arena Saturday afternoon for Game 3, where the Capitals go from the NHL’s best road record to the worst home record of any of the 16 playoff teams. While they went 19-16-6 in Chinatown, the lone meeting between the two that went to Washington was in a game where Ovechkin recorded a hat trick back on Nov. 26.

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick in the lone meeting between the two teams in Washington this season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Capitals were fairly effective at limiting the Panthers offensively in the two games in Florida and will need to resist the temptation to open the game up at home in front of their own fans, as they did far too often throughout the season.

Related: Capitals’ 3 Keys to Upsetting the Panthers in Round 1

However, the plus side for Washington was to earn a split in Florida, which they did with a strong Game 1 effort. Despite the loss in Game 2, to come home with home-ice advantage in what is now a best-of-five after a pair of good road performances sets up what they hope is a better dose of home success than they’ve seen this season.

A big question for Washington will be who is in goal for Game 3, as Vanecek couldn’t follow up his solid Game 1 start with another one in Game 2. Samsonov is 0-3 in his Stanley Cup career, dropping the last three games of last year’s five-game loss to the Boston Bruins.

Despite the Game 2 loss, the Capitals turned in nearly five periods of solid hockey in Florida, and have a good chance to take control of the series on home ice. But they will need a more consistent effort in net, as well as to continue the defensive work on display in most of Games 1 and 2. Against a tough Panthers team, a split certainly isn’t a bad result, even with the lopsided score on Thursday. And, as Ovechkin said bluntly after the contest, Washington is ready to move on with the split.

“[Stuff] happens,” Ovechkin told the media. “Move on, 1-1. … It is a good scenario for us.”

“We knew it was going to be a tough, long series,” he added. “Just move on and forget about it. It doesn’t matter the score, 1-nothing or 10-nothing, we still lost. If you compare the two games, they were two different games, bounces, you know mistakes” (from ‘Panthers get their tails up, even series with Capitals’, The Washington Post, 5/5/22).

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