Skip to Main Content

Ovechkin lifts Capitals past Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom experienced disappointment at the Sochi Olympics, the Washington Capitals' big guns were dominant in their return to NHL action.

Ovechkin and Backstrom each had a goal and two assists, with Ovechkin breaking a tie by scoring his NHL-leading 41st goal with 4:17 left in regulation in a 5-4 victory against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Thursday.

"It was good for him," Capitals coach Adam Oates said of Ovechkin. "I thought that line played very well. Big goal by Ovi to win it. Obviously [to] get the juices going and get some points, [it was a] good start."

Ovechkin, who didn't have a point in his final four games at the Olympics as Russia failed to earn a medal, helped the Capitals win after they twice had failed to hold two-goal leads. He scored the game-winner after a Florida turnover at the blue line when he one-timed Brooks Laich's saucer pass over the stick of defenseman Mike Weaver and past Tim Thomas.

"He's a game-breaker," Laich said. "We know that and we were pretty excited to see him put that one in the net."

Laich, playing on a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, also had a goal and two assists. Troy Brouwer scored two power-play goals, his fifth and sixth goals in the past five games, as Washington beat Florida for the ninth time in the teams' past 10 meetings.

Braden Holtby, who had two shutouts in his previous five starts, made 30 saves for Washington, which is 6-2-1 in its past nine games.

Holtby took a penalty for shooting the puck over the glass in the third period and Florida capitalized by scoring a power-play goal that cut Washington's lead to 4-3.

"I thought we were going great until Holts put it in the stands," Oates said. "It happens. It's a penalty, but they had nothing going until then and then they get a power play and they scored at the very end of it, it gives them some momentum. ... But we figured out a way to win, which is what we talked about this morning. We did a lot of good things in the game. It was also the first game back. There were some moments, some sloppy. But, hey, it's a win."

Defenseman Mike Green returned to action after missing the last five games before the Olympic break with a concussion, and center Mikhail Grabovski returned after missing eight games with an ankle injury. But Grabovski played only 2:20 before leaving the game in the first period. Oates said Grabovski reinjured the ankle after someone fell on him and is scheduled to be evaluated Friday morning.

Green had a glorious chance to break a 4-4 tie with 4:33 left in the third period when he came in on a breakaway and Thomas lost his balance and fell backward. But Thomas snared Green's wrist shot with his glove while on his back.

"I just caught a rut on the ice or something, but it turned into a really nice highlight-reel save," Thomas said. "I thought I've got to find a way to make the save because I look like an idiot."

Ovechkin scored the game-winner 16 seconds later.

"The disappointing part is the turnovers, the disappointing part is after the first two goals, we did it again, we give away goals," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said. "You can't win games playing turnover hockey. … With the best goal scorer in the League, you can't give him a 2-on-1 either."

The Capitals were without center Marcus Johansson, who had to fly to Sweden after the Olympics and rejoined his Capitals teammates in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. Johansson took part in the morning skate and pregame warm-up but was scratched because Oates said he was "feeling lousy."

Brad Boyes had two goals for Florida, extending his team-leading total to 17. Tomas Fleischmann and Drew Shore had the other goals for the Panthers, who have lost six of seven. Fleischmann's goal was his first in 23 games.

Thomas finished with 27 saves for the Panthers. Florida began its post-Olympic schedule without forwards Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky, both of whom were injured while competing in Sochi.

Brouwer, who also had a two-goal game on against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 6 in Washington's next-to-last game before the Olympic break, opened the scoring at 5:48 of the first period. With Fleischmann in the box for tripping, Brouwer scored on a backhand rebound from the front of the net.

His second goal came with 46.3 seconds left in the second period and made the score 4-2. It also came on a rebound, this one after Thomas stopped Ovechkin's one-timer off a feed from Backstrom.

"Two goals standing right in front," Brouwer said. "That's where I need to be to be successful. That's where they expect me to be. I've gotten away from it at times throughout the course of the season and have gotten into slumps as a result of it. I'm just working hard right now. We're trying to make a good playoff push and we need everyone to contribute to try and find ways to get points like we did tonight."

Florida scored twice in 74 seconds midway through the third period to tie the game.

Shore, recalled from the American Hockey League's San Antonio Rampage on Monday for his third stint with the Panthers this season, scored a rare power-play goal for the Panthers at 8:09 with a one-timer from the wing. Florida came in ranked last in the NHL in power-play efficiency at 8.9 percent.

Boyes tied it at 9:23 after a turnover in the Washington zone. Nick Bjugstad fed Boyes in the slot and Boyes then tried a quick pass to Sean Bergenheim. But the puck bounced off Bergenheim's stick and came right back to Boyes, who put it in past Holtby.

"I think we had a pretty good game, but a couple of mistakes, a couple of turnovers almost cost us points," Ovechkin said. "But it's good we bounced back and finished."

Backstrom, who was banned from Sweden's Olympic gold-medal from Canada because of a failed doping-control test that he said was the result of taking allergy medicine. broke a 2-2 tie at 3:44 of the second period. He scored after Martin Erat's pass across the net went off the stick of Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, forcing Thomas to make a spectacular pad save. The puck bounced right back to Backstrom at the front for an easy put-away.

"I felt good during the Olympics," Backstrom said. "I thought I played good. I took that back with me. We have big weeks coming up here and we have to be on top of our game, that's for sure."

Laich's one-timer off a nice cross-ice feed from Ovechkin gave Washington a 2-0 lead at 8:10 of the first period before the Panthers rallied.

Fleischmann made it 2-1 at 15:27 with his first goal since Dec. 17. He beat Holtby with a one-timer from the slot off a nice feed by Jesse Winchester from the corner. Boyes tied the score 40 seconds into the second period when he backhanded a rebound from the side of the net past Holtby.

"Going in we kind of guessed it was going to be a little bit of a scrambly game," Laich said. "We're just glad we got it done in regulation and got the two points. We'll build on it and be better in the next game."

View More

The NHL has updated its Privacy Policy effective January 16, 2020. We encourage you to review it carefully.

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.