Capitals’ goalie problems continues ahead of Game 3

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SUNRISE, Fla. — The moment Vitek Vanecek let in the Florida Panthers’ third goal in the Capitals’ eventual 5-1 Game 2 defeat Thursday night was the moment Washington’s never-ending goalie saga reared its head once again.

Mason Marchment delivered a dart from the right circle that found the space between Vanecek’s pads at the 3:11 mark of the second period, putting Florida up, 3-1. The goal came just 27 seconds after center Nicklas Backstrom scored to cut the Panthers’ lead in half.

It was a momentum-swinging goal, a back-breaker, and one any goalie — namely Vanecek — simply can’t allow if the Capitals want a shot at defeating Florida in the first-round series. The goal was the first of three straight for the Panthers en route to a victory that knotted the series at a game apiece.

“That was kind of tough, actually, mentally,” Backstrom said of Florida’s third goal. “After that, after the second period, in the third, they had a 5-1 lead. Nothing to say about that. That being said, we’ve got a tight series going back to Washington. Looking forward to playing in front of our fans.”

Vanecek can’t shoulder the blame for all five goals, with his defense breaking down on several occasions. However, as has been the case all season, his inability to make stops on routine shots precipitated his downfall.

Game 3 is Saturday afternoon at Capital One Arena following an off day for the team, and Coach Peter Laviolette likely will not reveal his starting goaltender until a couple hours before puck drop. Laviolette said Friday morning that Washington will have to “evaluate everything” from Game 2, including if they want to make a change in net.

Vanecek, who made 30 saves in Washington’s Game 1 win Tuesdaycould very well be the starter Saturday, despite being pulled in Game 2. He allowed five goals on 18 shots through two periods, but still seems to provide a more consistent option in net.

Ilya Samsonov played the entire third period Thursday and stopped all 17 shots he faced. While the majority of them were not high-danger attempts, it was an encouraging result for the 25-year-old.

“I thought he came in and played well, because I don’t think we played very well in the third at all, so I thought he came in and made some saves,” Laviolette said of Samsonov. “They had a lot of shots from the outside. He got to feel the puck, so that was good.”

Svrluga: Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek? Caps must pick a goalie and ride him.

Laviolette, who has expressed a desire for a true No. 1 goalie in the postseason, could go back to Vanecek for Game 3, though. Washington spent the regular season rotating between Vanecek and Samsonov, but Laviolette and his coaching staff could decide to pick one and commit now.

Laviolette said he gave Vanecek the starter role in the playoff opener because of his “body of work” during the regular season.

“You’re just doing your job and trying to stop the pucks and help the team,” Vanecek said of his mind-set during the postseason. “I know we have a good team and we can score goals so I always trust them.”

Samsonov has had a tougher time in consecutive starts, but fared well in his three postseason starts last year.

He has also risen to the occasion against top-tier opponents this season, but his inconsistent play — or the possibility of an in-game spiral after a bad goal — remains a glaring issue. When Samsonov is at his best, it’s when his confidence is high. His solid third period Thursday could help put him in the right head space for a possible Game 3 start.

“Every season has up and downs,” Samsonov said in late April. “It is just not reality that it is not just up. It does not work like that.”

Laviolette on Friday offered no update on the status of injured forward Tom Wilson, saying that Wilson is still “day-to-day.”

“When you lose a player like Tom, it’s tough… it would have been great if we could have just moved from Game 1 to Game 2 and had the same lineup, but that opportunity wasn’t there, it wasn’t present and so we have to move forward,” Laviolette said.

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