Despite the Washington Capitals’ average performance at home during the regular season, Capital One Arena is still a hostile environment, especially when the fan base has expectations. That atmosphere helped Washington defeat the Florida Panthers 6-1 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Their series with the Panthers isn’t a traditional one seed vs. eight seed matchup. There was disparity in the Eastern Conference this season, as the top half was much better than the bottom half, and all eight teams that reached the postseason had eclipsed 100 points. In other words, the Capitals are no slouch, and they proved that Saturday afternoon.
Capitals Take 2-1 Series Lead
Florida not only won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2021-22, but they were also the top-scoring team in the league, averaging over four goals a game. The Panthers only scored two-or-less goals in a game 15 times during the regular season, and that’s already happened twice in the three playoff games.
One thing Washington did well in the regular season against the Panthers is score goals. They averaged four in three games against Florida, going 1-1-1 in the season series, and are averaging 3.67 in this playoff matchup. A key for the Capitals against the Panthers in the postseason was to keep pace, and they have almost done so. The boost they’re receiving from the blue line has helped as well. Game 3 was about defense, Ilya Samsonov, and Washington’s second line.
Defense & Goaltending
The Capitals been physical, as always. In Game 3, they connected on 44 hits. Nick Jensen did not register one of said hits, but he was very solid. In 19:40 of ice time, he had three blocks, one takeaway, and an even rating. He also spent 3:58 on the penalty kill, helping the Capitals keep the Panthers scoreless on the power play – as has been the case the whole series (knock on wood, Caps fans).
Samsonov was exceptional in the crease and came up big in moments. He stopped 29 of 30 shots, using the momentum from his Game 2 relief appearance where he stopped all 17 he faced. This is something to watch with a wary eye. Both he and Vitek Vanecek have had stretches of great play, but the inconsistency has been a concern. Though it worked out in Game 3, it still supports the issue that either can have a letdown or fall into a slump. They can also redeem their teammate.
Samsonov came up with some huge stops, especially in the second period. That’s when Washington truly took control of the game.
The Second Line
Entering the series, both Anthony Mantha and Marcus Johansson needed to step up, and with Tom Wilson injured, that need became even more vital. In Game 3, they responded.
Mantha was imposing his physicality on Saturday, The team’s second goal by Johanson, the eventual game-winner, was a perfect example of how well the second line was playing. Mantha made a nice drive to the net and created the opportunity.
Nine minutes later, the second line tallied the third Washington goal of the game by Trevor van Riemsdyk. Mantha stole the puck in the corner of their offensive zone, which led to the score.
Nicklas Backstrom, Johansson, and Mantha combined for six points in the contest, five of which coming in the second period. Mantha added an assist in the third on Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal.
In Game 3, Washington was 2-for-6 on the power play, while the Panthers went 0-for-3. Florida out-hit the Capitals 49-44 and won 55% of faceoffs.
Washington needs to keep its focus because the Panthers will come out firing in Game 4. The Capitals must keep attacking because the bear – or big cat in this case – has been poked. If they can get a performance in net again like they did from Samsonov on Saturday, they will be in a very good position to advance. That is an if, however.
Moving forward, Peter Laviolette will assumingly keep Samsonov in net and go with the hot glove. As mentioned, Capitals fans should view his play with cautious optimism. It’s like having a keychain with two keys on it, and just one lock to open. You could easily pick the wrong one as much as the right one. One thing, however, to bring some sort of assurance, is that Laviolette has led two lower-seeded teams to the Stanley Cup Final, so it can be argued he knows what’s he doing at times.
To reiterate, Washington is not a traditional lower-seed. This is shaping up to be a long series. Game 4 is Monday at 7 p.m. ET in Washington, D.C.
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Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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