CAPITALS 3, PANTHERS 2 (OT)
It was hard to differentiate Florida's game Saturday night in Atlanta compared to Sunday's in Sunrise.
Yes, the opponents and the venues were different. Just about everything else was the same – including the final outcome.
As was the case Saturday, the Panthers tied the Capitals in the third period to force overtime. And, again, the Panthers watched the opposition get a quick goal to end things, Washington's Alexander Semin doing the honors 48 seconds into overtime to give the Capitals a 3-2 win at BankAtlantic Center that propelled them back into the Southeast Division lead.
Washington plays at Tampa Bay on Monday night with just one point separating the divisional foes.
On Saturday, the Thrashers beat Florida 4-3 when Andrew Ladd scored 25 seconds into overtime.
“We didn't give up and kept pushing through to tie it. But it's disappointing to lose it,'' said Panthers center Marty Reasoner, who had a chance to win it with 23.9 seconds left in regulation. “We have to keep the positives that we kept going at them both nights, kept at it.''
Florida, which has now dropped 18 of 23 games, took a 1-0 lead in the first period – as it had in Atlanta. Bill Thomas got the Panthers on the board with 4:57 left in the period after former Panthers defenseman Dennis Wideman – traded to Washington on Monday – coughed up the puck at center ice.
Thomas picked up the puck and rolled into the Capitals zone, passing it off to Michal Repik. As the two approached goalie Michal Neuvirth, Repik sliced a pass back to Thomas and he deposited it for his third goal of the year.
Florida once again had numerous scoring chances against the Capitals in the opening period, yet like Atlanta, couldn't convert on more than one. The Panthers outshot Washington 16-6 in the opening period – with one of those shots tying the score as Nicklas Backstrom fired a shot from Alex Ovechkin past Scott Clemmensen just over two minutes after Thomas' goal.
“I think we battled hard. We had the chances and the opportunities,'' said Niclas Bergfors, who was credited with five shots in the first period and ended with six of Florida's 34 attempts.
“We need to find a way to get to the net and get the rebounds. Look at the goals we get; most of them are us crashing the net. The effort is there. The difference is playing good and how good it feels to be winning. We have to find that way to win the games. We're close, but we're not there.''
The Panthers trailed 2-1 going into the third period but got a terrific scoring chance late when John Erskine was called for tripping Keaton Ellerby. Just 38 seconds later, Wideman slashed Dmitry Kulikov and joined his teammate in the penalty box. Florida, with a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:21, took advantage as David Booth refused to leave the space in front of the net and knocked in a loose puck originally shot by Stephen Weiss.
“I thought we deserved a better fate for the way we played,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “[Booth] had a big goal, we have to get to those areas of the ice. David is one of those guys who will do it. On the flip side, we can't be minus-2 on a night, either.''
Florida had a few more chances late, none as big as Reasoner's back-handed shot from the slot. The shot came at a strange angle because of Reasoner's shoveling motion, but Neuverth quickly brought up the glove and snagged it out of the air.
“Well, it seems there are a lot of goalies around the league who are good against me,'' Reasoner said. “That's more me than them a lot of times.''
Center Shawn Matthias has been walking around without the aid of crutches the past week and most recently had the walking boot removed from his injured ankle. Matthias, who broke his ankle in a game Jan. 26, said Sunday that he is planning on skating as early as Wednesday.
“They said that's about how long it would take,'' Matthias said. “I can't wait to get back out there.''
-- Jack Skille, who suffered a high ankle sprain on Feb. 23 in Ottawa, would like to play against his former teammates on Tuesday but that's not going to happen. Skille said Sunday that “it's getting close,'' although even he admits there really is no timetable for a return. A high ankle sprain is very tough to deal with. Said DeBoer: “It's almost better if you break it.''
Skille came to the Panthers in a trade with Chicago on Feb. 9. The Blackhawks visit the Panthers on Tuesday although they were already in town, coming directly from Fort Lauderdale after Saturday's win in Toronto.
Defenseman Alexander Sulzer suffered an undisclosed injury Saturday and missed Sunday's game. Clay Wilson was recalled from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
-- DeBoer was asked about Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's comments about some of his players crying the locker room following the Heat's close loss to Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
“Regular season? No,'' DeBoer said, adding, “I've seen coaches [cry]. I might have been there myself over the past couple of weeks. I'm just kidding. Listen, hockey players are emotional guys but it's usually in the playoffs.''