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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Panthers 5, Caps 3

Caps' third-period rally falls short in Florida, Carlson hits 70 points, Caps go winless vs. Cats for first time, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Too Deep To Fill - Earlier in the season, the Caps dug out of three- and two-goal holes, respectively, in their two home games against the Florida Panthers, forcing overtime to earn a pair of single points in shootout and overtime losses, respectively.

On Monday night in Sunrise, the Caps played their final road game of the 2018-19 regular season and finished out their season's series with the Panthers, looking for their first win. This time around, they dug the ditch even deeper, going down 4-0 after 40 minutes of play before mounting a comeback. That comeback fell short, and the Caps got what they deserved, a 5-3 loss to the Cats.

Washington center Lars Eller summed it up succinctly afterwards when asked what was hurting his team over the game's first two frames.

"Everything," was the typically honest answer from Eller. "Lack of emotion, pace to our game, execution, executing simple passes, playing slow, a lot of things."

Monday's loss halted a four-game Washington winning streak and was a missed opportunity to clinch a fourth straight Metropolitan Division title. Combined with Toronto's 2-1 shaving of the Islanders in New York, a Caps victory over the Cats would have given Washington the division crown.

It almost happened.

Florida outplayed the Caps in the first, scoring the game's first goal on a favorable bounce off an official. Washington netminder Pheonix Copley made five stops on a Florida power play late in the first to keep the Caps within a goal.

But the wheels came off in the middle period, as the Caps were sloppy and lethargic in allowing a trio of goals. The second of the three tallies came 13 seconds into Washington's first power play of the night, a shorthanded strike from Vincent Trocheck to make it a 3-0 game at 12:01 of the second.

But Florida needed every bit of that 4-0 lead. The Caps' comeback didn't get started until the back half of the third when Evgeny Kuznetsov's deflection of a John Carlson point shot spoiled Roberto Luongo's shutout bid at 10:55. A second Caps power play chance came shortly thereafter, but did not bear fruit.

Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana scored 74 seconds apart in the waning minutes, Vrana's coming in a six-on-five situation with Copley off for an extra attacker, and with 2:21 still remaining with which to get the equalizer. Washington continuously pumped pucks at Luongo during that time - getting three on net and missing three times - before Trocheck's empty-netter sealed the victory for Florida.

To their credit, the Caps didn't quit in the third and they don't sound like they're interested in merely burning the film from this one and moving on.

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 1

"No, not at all," says Reirden. "There are lessons to be learned. We're trying to grow as a team, and that's too many goals to spot a team. You can't let it go. You've got to address it, and talk about it, and point out good things and bad things, and grow from it."

"We come into every game wanting to win," says Carlson, "and we obviously want to win the division and we're disappointed, but I don't know if we throw it out. I think you can learn a lot from games like this, and Todd talked about it after. Just when things aren't going our way, to simplify, and I think we could have kept it a lot closer than four.

"When we've got the players that we do, we can come back from or two, and maybe even three. But four is difficult. We never want to spot teams goals, and I think there are definitely some lessons to be learned about that going into the important stuff."

The Company I Keep - With his assist on Kuznetsov's goal, Carlson reached the 70-point plateau (13 goals, 57 assists) for the first time in his NHL career. In doing so, he becomes just the fifth Caps defenseman ever to record a 70-point season, and the first to do so since Mike Green had 76 points (19 goals, 57 assists) in 2009-10.

Green (2008-09 and '09-10) and Kevin Hatcher (1990-91 and 1992-93) each reached 70 points twice with the Caps while Hockey Hall of Famers Larry Murphy (1986-87) and Scott Stevens (1987-88) each did so once.

Murphy holds the franchise record for most points in a single season by a defenseman; he had 81 points (23 goals, 58 assists). Stevens set the franchise standard for assists by a blueliner in a single season with 61 in 1988-89.

Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | April 1

38 Special - Ovechkin notched his 38th assist of the season on Backstrom's goal, matching his total from last season. The last time Ovechkin had more assists in a single campaign was 2010-11 when he had 53. Ovechkin now has 89 points (51 goals, 38 assists) in 2018-19, his highest point total since he had 109 (50 goals, 59 assists) in 2009-10.

Cool For Cats - For the first time since Florida entered the NHL as an expansion team in 1993-94, the Caps failed to earn at least one win over the Panthers during the regular season. The Panthers will miss the playoffs for the 16th time in the last 18 seasons in 2018-19, but they are the only Eastern Conference team that the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals were unable to defeat this season.

By The Numbers - Ovechkin led Washington with 22:42 in ice time, six shots on net, nine shot attempts, and eight hits … Nic Dowd blocked two shots to lead the Caps … Backstrom won 11 of 17 draws (65 percent).

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