At first glance, Wednesday's game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers had the feel of a preseason game. The Caps had clinched the Southeast Division, the Panthers had been eliminated from playoff contention and several of Washington's top forwards sat out. While one could not blame the Caps for coasting, they did anything but.
Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, Sean Collins, Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin scored to give the Caps a big 5-2 win over the Panthers.
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period and a 3-0 lead after two. Hendricks made it 4-0 on a dirty goal right in the crease that eluded Scott Clemmesen. Florida made it interesting with two late goals from David Booth and Mike Santorelli, but Ovechkin's empty net goal sealed the Capitals' East-leading 48th win of the season.
Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves in his first start since March 29 to earn his first win since February 20. With the victory, the Caps move four points ahead of the idle Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have one game in hand, but if the Capitals earn one point against the Panthers Saturday, they will clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Sean Collins knows that his time with the Capitals is limited as the defensive corps slowly gets healthy, but he will bring a souvenir back to AHL Hershey with him,
Collins' goal midway through the second period has given the Caps a 3-0 lead over the Panthers after 40 minutes.
Collins' second career NHL goal put the Caps up 3-0 at 11:42. A David Booth turnover gave the Caps a 4-on-2 odd man rush. Alex Ovechkin carried the puck into the zone and looked to set up a scoring chance. His pass caromed off of Mike Weaver and bounced right to a trailing Collins, who put a top shelf snap shot past Scott Clemmensen.
The Capitals outshot the Panthers 9-8 in the second period, but still find themselves down 26-15 in that department.
Semyon Varlamov, making his first start since March 29, has stopped all 26 shots that he has faced.
The Washington Capitals could not be blamed if they decided to coast through Wednesday's game with the Florida Panthers, considering that they've locked up the Southeast Division. Yet, they decided to keep rolling.
Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera's power play goals have given the Capitals a 2-0 lead over the Panthers after the first period.
With Mike Weaver in the penalty box for tripping Marcus Johansson, the Capitals took advantage early. Alex Ovechkin started the rush from the defensive zone and sent a pass to Brooks Laich at center ice. Laich drove down the boards and towards the net, found Knuble cutting through the slot and sent a perfect centering pass that Knuble tapped past Scott Clemmensen for his 24th goal of the season at 1:20. Entering the game, the Caps were 1-17 on the power play against the Panthers in four games.
Jason Chimera added to the lead at 19:23 off of a beautiful pass from Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom took a pass from Laich and wrapped around the net. Clemmensen looked behind him as he expected him to continue around the way, but Backstrom instead threw a centering pass to Chimera in the slot, who then scored his second power play this week.
Despite a two-goal lead, the Panthers are outplaying the Caps. Florida is outshooting Washington 18-6, but could not get anything past Semyon Varlamov.
There are several regulars missing from the lineup. Jason Arnott, Alexander Semin and Scott Hannan will all sit out tonight and are listed as day-to-day. Semyon Varlamov will get his first start since March 29. D.J. King will be the odd man out in the lineup and is a healthy scratch.
The Washington Capitals clinched their fourth consecutive Southeast Division championship Tuesday with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the season is not over. The Caps will host the Florida Panthers in the first of a season-ending home-and-home series Wednesday.
Tuesday's 3-2 shootout win saw Alex Ovechkin score his 300th career NHL goal and Mike Knuble win the game in the shootout. John Erskine also scored in his return from an undisclosed injury, but the depleted defensive corps will be getting a big boost this weekend. Mike Green skated during Wednesday's optional practice and head coach Bruce Boudreau said that he will return Saturday against the Panthers in Sunrise. Green hasn't played since February 25. Meanwhile, Alexander Semin will be a game-time decision after not playing Tuesday.
The Panthers are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and have been out of the playoff race for some time, but that doesn't mean that they can't play spoiler. Despite not having won since March 17 (0-5-3), the Panthers have defeated the Caps twice this season.