The Capitals won for the seventh time in their past nine games, and stayed tied with Winnipeg, which won Saturday afternoon. Washington is tied in points (40) with the Jets but has played two fewer games.
Players need not be reminded how critical each game is with only 10 remaining in the regular season.
“We don’t have to say much. Everybody understand right now we can’t give up the points,” said Ovechkin, who was more concerned about Washington learning a lesson from letting the Panthers back in the game late. “We can’t play like that. It starts in locker room, just go there finish it up and play hard. We came out [poorly in the third] and that can’t happen.”
The Capitals’ latest triumph didn’t come without a loss — trade-deadline acquisition Martin Erat was injured in the first period and did not return.
With 5 minutes and 23 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Erat was driven into the boards by Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Erat’s head slammed into the boards and his left leg and foot were contorted upon impact, making it difficult to determine the extent of his injuries. The Capitals would only describe Erat’s injury as lower body; Oates was unsure of how much time the winger might miss.
“Really hard to tell right now, [Washington’s head athletic trainer Greg Smith] didn’t think it was that bad. We’ll see in the morning.”
Erat appeared woozy when he was helped to the bench and, unable to put weight on his left foot, needed to be carried by Capitals athletic training and equipment staff to the dressing room. Gudbranson received a five-minute major for boarding, a game misconduct and he could receive additional discipline from the NHL’s department of player safety.
The injury to Erat strikes another blow to Washington’s left-wing depth. The Capitals were already without Brooks Laich, who suffered what the team will only describe as a lower-body injury in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders and did not travel to Florida, Saturday night.
In this particular outing, however, the surge by Washington’s captain and potent power play – the unit went 3-for-5 in the victory -- was enough to keep the Panthers at bay.
After a sleepy start in a first period with little flow thanks to plenty of off-side calls and various other stoppages, it took the power play gained from Gudbranson’s hit on Erat to wake Washington.
The NHL’s top power play converted with 15:45 gone in the first when Mike Ribeiro found Ovechkin alone on a backdoor cut for an easy shot into the net with Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom (27 saves) caught on the other side of the crease.