BY GEORGE RICHARDS
No matter how good Tomas Vokoun has been playing, if his teammates can't clear the puck deep in their own zone or flat out turn it over in front of the net, he's not going to be very effective.
Especially when those miscues and defensive breakdowns come against the high flying Washington Capitals.
Vokoun ended up watching the end of Tuesday's game against the Capitals from the bench and that was just as well as the Panthers gave Washington one opportunity after another. As usual, the Capitals took advantage and rolled to a 7-3 victory at BankAtlantic Center.
“We left our goalies hanging out to dry,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “There were too many second, third chances out there. We were too soft. You can't expect to get a playoff spot in this league when you come out and don't play harder than the other team – especially against the best team in the league.''
The Capitals swept the six-game season series from the Panthers as they collected all 12 available points – one big reason Washington became the league's first division champion this season. The Panthers got just one of those 12 points – a big reason why they are on the outside of the playoff chase watching from afar.
“In our division, these are big games,'' captain Bryan McCabe said. “To even go .500 against them would have put us in a better position. We didn't do that. They dominated us all year, and that continued tonight.''
Washington outscored the Panthers 33-15 this season – and 23-12 without superstar Alex Ovechkin in the lineup. The Caps have scored six goals or more in 11 games this season, three against Florida. Washington came into the night with a league-high 270 goals – 42 more than second-place Vancouver and 53 more than Pittsburgh.
Ovechkin missed four of Washington's six games against the Panthers, scoring a goal with an assist in the two wins he did partake in.
How good has Vokoun been? Tuesday was his 27th start since Dec. 31. Of those games, he gave up five goals twice (including Tuesday) and four goals three times. Vokoun gave up three goals or fewer in 22 of those 27 starts. Of the five games where Vokoun gave up more than three, the Capitals were the opponent in three of those games.
Unfortunately for Vokoun, his teammates haven't given him much offensive support as he went just 12-12-3 in those 27 games.
Tuesday was more of the same for Vokoun as the Panthers flailed and whiffed at the puck so often one would have thought they were taking batting practice against CC Sabathia.
“They take every opportunity they get and take advantage,'' defenseman Jason Garrison said. “You have to be very strong defensively against them. We gave up too much and it cost us too many goals.''
In the first, Washington scored a pair of goals as Alexander Semin knocked in a puck and Jason Chimera followed up a rebound.
Florida went into the first break down 2-1 after Steven Reinprecht took a nice pass from Dmitry Kulikov and raced down the left side and scored from the circle.
After that, it was all Washington. The Capitals scored four goals in the second period as Florida only countered with one from Kamil Kreps and the game was over early. Vokoun was pulled after Brooks Laich scored with 5:54 left in the second after Bryan Allen (who saved a goal in the first by dislodging the net and taking the penalty) couldn't clear the puck on a penalty kill.
That goal made it 5-1 and Vokoun was mercifully replaced by Scott Clemmensen. Even though Kreps scored seconds after Clemmensen came in, he didn't have much luck either as Nicklas Backstrom made it 6-2 on the second shot Clemmensen faced as Stephen Weiss (minus-3 in the first 40 minutes) failed to get the puck and move it out.
Michal Repik got Florida's last goal of the night with 1:33 left.
“It's nice, but it wasn't much help to the team,'' Repik said. “This was tough.''