PANTHERS 3, CAPITALS 0
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy spent 14 seasons as an NHL defenseman, so he has seen his fair share of impressive power plays.
Murphy put the Washington Capitals in some pretty good company as he compared their offensive firepower with that of the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers and the Pittsburgh Penguins of the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr era.
On Thursday night, Murphy's penalty kill units were charged with slowing those Capitals down. Not only did the Panthers contain the Capitals, they completely shut them down. Despite having eight power play chances, the Capitals failed to put a puck past Tomas Vokoun as the Panthers shocked Washington with a 3-0 win at Verizon Center.
“It is a good feeling and it's a credit to the guys in that locker room,'' said Murphy, who is in his first year coaching the Panthers penalty kill. “It was a lot about Vokoun, he was outstanding out there. .-.-. When you play a team with the firepower and multiple options Washington has over there, the guys knew they had to be good and be on their toes. I can't say enough for how they prepared and executed.''
The Panthers have won three straight for the first time this season and snapped a six-game losing streak to the Capitals. Washington has lost four straight – with the past three coming at home. Florida had not been called for nine penalties in a game this season prior to Thursday.
Florida is the lowest penalized team in the league, but they've had three games this season where they have given the opposition at least seven power play chances. In those three games (22 chances), the Panthers surrendered one goal.
“We got shelled a couple times last year from them, so it was nice to get a win here,'' said Vokoun, who recorded the 41st shutout of his career and 20th with the Panthers by stopping 36 shots. “It’s always nice to beat a team like that in their building.
"Getting a shutout is a nice bonus. I haven’t been feeling very good the last few weeks. It’s been tough, some late game losses. This is an up and down business, you go from feeling terrible to feeling great and vice versa.''
Vokoun kept the Panthers in the game as Washington had four power play chances in the opening period alone. Vokoun, who had 18 saves in the first 20 minutes, was strong and kept the Capitals at bay until Michael Frolik and Steve Bernier picked up opportunistic and timely goals.
Eight of Florida's penalties were called within the first 31 minutes of the game.
The ice started to level itself in the second period as the Capitals started to rack up some penalties of their own. Florida had three power play chances in the second, including a lengthy 5-on-3. The Panthers had a two-man advantage for 1:18 late in the second, but failed to score as the scoreless game continued.
Florida got a huge jolt of momentum late in the period, however, as Michael Frolik knocked in a loose puck with a single second left on the clock. Despite being out shot and out chanced by the skilled Capitals, the Panthers took the lead into the second intermission.
“Great moments always seem to happen. Sometimes they go against you, sometimes they go for you,'' Vokoun said. “It was huge, that one second. I’ve been on that side too and it’s really deflating.''
The Panthers got their fourth power play chance of the night in the third period and, while they didn't score, kept up the pressure on goalie Semyon Varlamov and the Capitals.
Not long after the power play chance ended, Dmitry Kulikov rifled off a shot that Varlamov blocked. The puck came back to Stephen Weiss who clipped the post with his shot. The puck sat on the ice for a moment and Bernier pounced on it and knocked it home to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead midway through the period.
Mike Santorelli later added an extra layer of insurance as he got a rare power play goal with 2:34 remaining.
“Our goaltender was our best player in the first and allowed us to get through that,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought in the second and third we really played well. I thought our defense as the core, maybe their best game as a year, the six guys. All our big guys came to play.''
-- On Nov. 5, the Panthers stopped all seven of Carolina's power play chances in a 7-4 victory. The Panthers stopped six of Tampa Bay's seven power play chances in a 4-3 shootout win on Nov. 27.
Bryan Allen hoped to be back in the Panthers lineup Tuesday against the Avalanche after a good run of practices. But the pain in his broken foot flared up again on Wednesday, and his return is still up in the air. Allen was hurt Nov. 22. Allen practiced again before Thursday's game in Washington and said afterward that he felt much better. Would he play Saturday in Nashville?
“I'm on this trip for a reason,'' Allen said with a grin. “The pain is the biggest thing. I felt good after practice Monday and thought I would play Tuesday. They said to wait. Then [Wednesday] I couldn't even turn. It felt like it did a week ago. But now, maybe the day of rest did it some good.''