A four-goal ditch proved to be too deep for the Capitals on Monday night in Florida, and they suffered a 5-3 loss at the hands of the Panthers in Sunrise. The Panthers scored three times in the middle period to take a 4-0 lead into the third, and a furious late rally from the Caps fell just short. Washington scored three in the third and came close to tying the game late, but a Vincent Trocheck empty-netter in the final minute sealed their fate.
"We weren't sharp to start the game, and they were able to convert on their chances," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "They got some good opportunities and they finished, and we didn't get ours until the game was out of reach. Anywhere in between there, if we could have made an earlier surge, we would have had a chance to at least get a point out of this."
Trocheck's first goal of the game was ultimately the dagger in this one. Trailing 2-0 midway through the second period, the Caps were starting to spend some time in Florida ice and they drew their first power play, giving them a chance to halve the Panthers' lead.
Instead, Trocheck scored a shorthanded goal just 13 seconds into the power play, making the hole a goal deeper at 3-0.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | April 1
"Sometimes you get a goal that gets the boys going, or you get a hit or something that gets the bench fired up," says Caps center Lars Eller. "Usually, a good shift with cycles can get the momentum going that way, can change the pace of the game for us. But we didn't really have that today. We didn't have it today."
Florida got on the board late in the first when a dump-in took a Florida bounce off an official's skate to Henrik Borgstrom, who nudged it to Colton Sceviour below the goal line. Sceviour kicked it out front to Frank Vatrano, who beat Caps goalie Pheonix Copley from the slot at 13:48, staking the Cats to a 1-0 lead.
Florida got the game's first power play a couple of minutes later, and Copley set aside five shots during that two-minute stretch to keep the Caps within a goal. Washington didn't generate much in the way of scoring chances or offensive zone time in the first period.
Things went seriously sideways for Washington in the second.
Nicklas Backstrom won a defensive zone draw early in the frame, but the Caps couldn't manage to control the puck, and it bounded to the front where Jonathan Huberdeau quickly pounced and buried it into a half-empty cage at 3:34.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 1
The Caps put together a couple of consecutive offensive zone shifts midway through the period, but didn't generate much in the way of shots or scoring chances. But they did draw a penalty on Vatrano, putting themselves on the power play with a chance to cut into the Cats' advantage.
Instead, the ditch got deeper. Washington lost the draw in Florida ice, and Vincent Trocheck took a feed from Sasha Barkov, carried into the Caps' zone and threaded a shot through Copley's legs at 12:01, just 13 seconds after the start of the Caps' power play. The Caps weren't able to get a shot on goal during the man advantage.
Florida burned the Caps for a rush goal late in the frame. After Roberto Luongo easily handled Alex Ovechkin's shot from long range, Florida gained possession and came out of the zone with speed and the puck. Ex-Cap Troy Brouwer drifted to the slot all alone, scoring into a mostly open net after a tic-tac-toe setup from Dryden Hunt and Barkov at 17:57.
Washington's comeback got underway at 10:55 of the third when John Carlson kept the puck in at the right point after the Panthers rimmed it. Carlson let a shot fly, and Evgeny Kuznetsov deflected it past Luongo to make it 4-1 at 10:55.
Another Caps power play followed, but once again Washington wasn't even able to generate a shot with the extra man.
Video: WSH Recap: Comeback effort falls short in 5-3 loss
The Caps cut the lead to 4-2 on a rush goal late in the third. T.J. Oshie carried into Florida ice along the left wing wall, carved slightly to the middle and fed Backstrom, whose one-timer eluded Luongo at 16:25.
With Copley pulled for an extra attacker, the Caps crept to within a goal, and they still had more than two minutes with which to get even. Luongo stopped Matt Niskanen's center point blast, but Oshie got the rebound and quickly dished to Jakub Vrana. Vrana scpred at 17:39 to make it a 4-3 game.
A trio of shots and a trio of misses later, Trocheck took away the last vestiges of drama when he scored into the vacant net, giving the Panthers their third win in as many games against the Caps this season. Florida is the only Eastern Conference team the Caps went winless against in 2018-19.
"Certainly it's nice to see us battle," says Carlson of the Caps' late push, "but there's no consolation prizes for stuff like that. We needed to be better earlier, that's really what it comes down to."