History has a way of repeating itself. But the Capitals, entering this weekend’s games against the Florida Panthers, hope that in many ways, a case of déjà vu does not.
On Nov. 3, 1995, the Capitals took on the Florida Panthers at USAir Arena, entering the contest with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference (8-3-0).
Tonight, the Captials will take on the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center, entering the contest with the second best record in the Eastern Conference (8-3-4).
In 1995-96, the Panthers (8-4-0) were off to great start of their own, led on offense by Scott Mellanby, Stu Barnes and Jody Hull and in net by veteran goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck.
The Capitals benefitted from the outstanding play of their defense, led by Calle Johansson, Mark Tinordi and Sergei Gonchar, and solid play in net from Jim Carey and Olie Kolzig. The Caps had allowed two goals or fewer in eight of their first 11 games of the season
The battle between the Caps and Panthers was an early one for the title of “Best in the East.” The winner of the contest would overtake the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers entered the contest with one of the best offenses in the NHL (43 goals in 11 games), and got off to a quick start, scoring three first period goals on just five shots. The goal-scorers for the Panthers, in order, were Radek Dvorak, Robert Svehla, and Rob Niedermeyer. The Caps’ Peter Bondra mixed in a goal to tie the game at 1-1, but the Panthers held a 3-1 advantage at the end of the first period.
Although the Caps trailed, they continued a dominant defensive performance, allowing three shots in the second period, and three in the third period, for a total of 11 shots allowed. No Panthers player had more than two shots on goal in the contest.
“They had three goals on five shots but only one good scoring chance,” said Capitals head coach Jim Schoenfeld. “I can’t be too upset when we allow 11 shots in 60 minutes.”
Gonchar scored with 2:33 left in the third period, but the Capitals were unable to rally for the victory, falling 3-2 to the Panthers. The 11 shots allowed set a club record at the time for fewest shots allowed in a game.
That record was broken last season, when the Capitals allowed just 10 shots to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 victory on Oct. 13, 2008.
In the 1995-96 season, the Capitals set a team record for fewest goals allowed (204) a standard that was lowered in 1997-98 (202 goals allowed) and again in 1999-2000 (194 goals allowed).
The Panthers would finish the 1995-96 season as Eastern Conference champions, before falling to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals.