Panthers dominate Capitals in Game 2, even series

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SUNRISE, Fla. — The Washington Capitals entered Game 2 of their playoff series with the Florida Panthers with a chance to seize control against the team that compiled the most points in the NHL. The Capitals won the opener at FLA Live Arena two days earlier and came out Thursday looking every bit like a veteran team on a mission.

The Panthers, like cats toying with their food, were simply waiting to pounce.

Florida imposed its will on the visitors with two goals late in the first period and rolled to a 5-1 win that knotted the series at a game apiece.

The Capitals, playing without injured Tom Wilson, got a goal back early in the second when Nicklas Backstrom beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on the short side. But the high-octane Panthers answered less than 30 seconds later, then added two more strikes in the period’s final five minutes to effectively seal it before the final intermission.

“[Stuff] happens,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Move on, 1-1. … It is a good scenario for us.”

One of the Panthers’ calling cards is their speed, but they dominated the third period with their physicality. They controlled the area around the Capitals’ net, and TJ Oshie and Trevor van Riemsdyk appeared hobbled in the third period, though both finished the game.

Bobrovsky stopped 26 of 27 shots sent his way. Vitek Vanecek, who sparkled in Tuesday night’s 4-2 win in the opener, let in five goals on 18 shots through the game’s first 40 minutes before giving way to Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov stopped 16 shots in the final frame, facing a steady barrage.

Washington will have a decision to make in net for Saturday’s Game 3. Vanecek’s performance was not encouraging, though the defense in front of him wasn’t as tight as it needed to be. Samsonov made a handful of athletic saves in relief and looked strong in the crease.

“I thought [Samsonov] 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,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They had a lot of shots from the outside. He got to feel the puck, so that was good. He had to make a couple saves as well.”

As the series shifts to Washington for Game 3, the Capitals seized home-ice advantage even if they ceded some momentum Thursday. The Capitals came out on the front foot in the first period, but they paid for it when they let up near the end of the period.

“We knew it was going to be a tough, long series,” Ovechkin said. “Just move on and forget about it. It doesn’t matter the score, 1-nothing or 10-nothing, we still lost. If you compare the two games, they were two different games, bounces, you know mistakes.”

Aaron Ekblad gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first after his right point shot took a weird bounce on the block attempt from defenseman Martin Fehervary. The Panthers doubled their lead about 90 seconds later, with Aleksander Barkov scoring at the doorstep after a slick move and dish from Jonathan Huberdeau.

Backstrom’s goal was from a bad angle along the goal line on the power play at 2:44 of the second period. Mason Marchment made it a 3-1 game only 27 seconds later, beating Vanecek from the right circle.

The Capitals had another prime opportunity to get back in the game at 5:58 of the second, when Marchment took two minor penalties to give Washington a four-minute power play. Ovechkin played the majority of that span, but Washington couldn’t beat Bobrovsky.

“We all need to realize that everything matters in the playoffs,” Backstrom said. “The margins are small, but especially after goals like that, we’ve got to be a little bit sharper and make sure we take care of that puck. Overall, our execution wasn’t there tonight. That’s an area we’ve got to be better at.”

The Panthers took over from there. Anton Lundell scored at 15:24 of the middle frame off a two-on-zero rush in front. Just over two minutes later, Carter Verhaeghe made it 5-1.

The Capitals head home not only with goaltending questions but health concerns.

Wilson did not play in Game 2 after he suffered a lower-body injury early in Game 1 on Tuesday night. The shift after Wilson scored the game’s first goal, he appeared to take the worst of a hit he tried to throw on Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar along the boards. Wilson didn’t play after that, recording only 91 seconds of ice time for the night.

Wilson is officially listed as day-to-day, but his status for the rest of the series is questionable. Laviolette did not want to speculate on his availability of him for Game 3.

“We always hope for the best with players. … Hope to see him down the road,” Laviolette said.

Without Wilson, the Capitals decided to put rookie Brett Leason in the lineup. Leason, 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, was recalled Thursday morning from the Hershey Bears, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate.

“Brett’s done a really good job for us the entire year in the position that’s available,” Laviolette said.

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