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Ovechkin strikes, Capitals hold off Panthers

by Corey Masisak /
WASHINGTON -- Mike Green and Eric Fehr helped the Washington Capitals overcome a sluggish start and fend off the Florida Panthers in a 3-2 victory Saturday night at Verizon Center.

Green and Fehr set each other up for goals, and an Alex Ovechkin insurance tally proved a big one after the Panthers threatened with a late comeback. Semyon Varlamov made 25 saves and the Capitals won for the sixth time in eight games. They are 6-0-2 since a 7-0 loss at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 12.

"It wasn't pretty at all," Green said. "The thing that bothered us was that last goal there at the end. We want to make sure we eliminate things like that. At least we got one on the power play and we're on the right track."

Mike Santorelli gave Florida an early lead and Evgeni Dadonov provided a glimmer of hope with a late tally, but the Panthers dropped their third straight contest. Scott Clemmensen made 24 saves, but the Panthers were playing for the second straight night and their fifth game in seven nights and a strong few minutes from the Capitals in the third period proved to be enough.

The Panthers will likely rue missed opportunities in this contest. Three times Florida players had the puck and an open net to shoot but one went off a Washington defenseman's stick, one hit a skate on the way in and one was chipped over the crossbar.

"That's as good as we can play under these circumstances," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "Our effort was there, our execution was there. Right now we're a team that if we make a mistake or two, we lose. Our margin of error is pretty small. We took a penalty there in the third period and that was a the difference."

That penalty was a tripping infraction on Michal Frolik and came near the end of a Florida power play. Washington has struggled mightily with the man advantage of late and the Capitals managed only one shot in more than five minutes or power-play time before Green put the Capitals in front 2-1 with 6:53 remaining in the third period.

Fehr carried the puck away from the left wall with the Capitals on the power play and sent a pass to Green who was cutting through the middle of the Panthers' defense. Green’s backhanded shot beat Clemmensen for his eighth goal of the season.

Green had two points, five shots on net and two blocked shots in 24:10 of ice time and was easily Washington's best skater in this contest.

"I think that is why we've had such close games because our power play has been struggling," Green said. "In the past when we get one on the power play then we get one from the third or fourth line and we end up with three or four goals. Without the power play going, we've been struggling to win games by more than we have been."

Added Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau: "Just to get the lead in the third period was like a breath of fresh air. You come off a shutout [a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay] and it seems like you're never going to score and every goal you get is such a difficult goal."

Ovechkin gave the Capitals a two-goal cushion with 3:55 left. His 15th marker of the season came after a pass off the boards from Mike Knuble set him free on a breakaway and he got the shot off before Bryan McCabe was able to cut down the angle.

It was only Ovechkin's third goal in 13 games, and the other was an empty-netter against Montreal.

"I always took it to heart," Ovechkin said. "My numbers are not that good or where they're supposed to be. But it's the middle of the year and there are 40 games left. We'll see what's going to happen at the end of the year."

Dadonov cut Washington's lead back to a goal with 1:37 remaining, and the Panthers had a power play for the final 1:07 but could not score with Clemmensen at the bench for a 6-on-4 advantage.

Florida registered the lone goal in the opening period. David Booth collected the puck in the right corner and sent a diagonal pass to defenseman Dmitry Kulikov at the left point. Kulikov stepped around Ovechkin and connected with Mike Santorelli, who was alone in front of the net.

Santorelli slid a backhanded shot past Semyon Varlamov at 3:49 to score on the first shot of the game by either club. It was Santorelli's 11th goal of the season and second against the Capitals this year.

"I thought we played pretty good and I thought we had our chances," Santorelli said. "I thought we could have been on the winning side of it. It is a tough pill to swallow – we just have to focus on the next game against them."

Washington's players talked about wanting a strong start against a Florida team that was playing on back-to-back nights and its third contest in four days. The Capitals had only five shots in the first period and two were from the neutral zone. They didn't put one on net from inside the blue line in the first 13:14 of the period.

"No, it wasn't [a good start] and we addressed it in the room here between the first and second period," Green said. "Once we got on forecheck they didn't have much after that. It was one minor thing we needed to adjust and then we needed guys to step up and just put the puck in the net."

Fehr leveled the score with the lone tally of the middle period. Green carried the puck behind the net and tried a wraparound attempt. The puck went to Fehr at the top of the crease and he snapped it under the crossbar from in tight.

It was Fehr's eighth goal of the season and fourth in six games. It was also his third straight goal for Washington, dating back to the final two in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field two games ago.

"Pucks are finally going in," Fehr said. "I feel like I'm getting the same opportunities as in the past and pucks are going to go in if you keep throwing it at the net and keep playing consistently, you know you'll get opportunities."
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