By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; D05
SUNRISE, FLA. -- It wasn't easy, and it wasn't pretty, and it was in no way relaxing. But the Washington Capitals overcame a three-goal deficit and eventually beat the Florida Panthers, 5-4, in the sixth round of a shootout Wednesday, as Tomas Fleischmann fired a goal past goalie Tomas Vokoun seconds after José Theodore turned back an attempt by Cory Stillman.
Fleischmann's poke left the crowd of 14,776 at BankAtlantic Center nearly silent and put the finishing touches on a nerve-rattling and somewhat incomprehensible comeback after they trailed 4-1 midway through the second period. After another dreadful start, Washington climbed back with three consecutive goals. Theodore, meantime, coolly shut down the Panthers after being summoned in the second period, holding them scoreless on 15 shots.
"I don't care how we do it," Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We hung in and got the job done and I thought Theo was marvelous."
Despite the victory and Theodore's performance, the night generated significant consternation. For the second consecutive game, Washington got beaten up early by an inferior Southeast Division opponent. Tuesday, it was the third-place Tampa Bay Lightning that took a 4-1 lead; Wednesday, the Capitals fell behind the fourth-place Panthers 2-0 at the end of the first period.
It was also a repeat debacle for goalie Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled for the second straight night after giving up four goals. Neuvirth, whom Boudreau defended Wednesday morning, faced 15 shots before being yanked.
Meantime, Alex Ovechkin, who had scored just one goal in the Capitals' opening five games of 2010, got off to a slow start against Florida. Ovechkin, who collected five assists over that stretch, had hoped to make an impact in his first game against the Panthers this season. He had missed the first three, all victories, two because of injury and one because of a suspension.
Florida held Ovechkin in check -- he was not on the ice for either of the first two goals -- until he grabbed a loose puck in front of the goal and sent it past Vokoun 27 seconds into the third period. The goal he described as "lucky" brought the Capitals to within 4-3.
"We started again pretty badly," Ovechkin said. "Actually, we played pretty well, we just don't use our chances."
Nicklas Backstrom was credited for the tying goal on a tip-in with just more than seven minutes remaining on a deflected shot by Capitals defenseman Mike Green.
After a scoreless overtime, the two teams had failed to score in the first three rounds of the shootout, then matched each other with goals in each of the next two rounds. Theodore had turned back Rostislav Olesz, Steven Reinprecht and Nathan Horton. Vokoun stopped Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Ovechkin, who was serenaded with boos by the crowd as he attempted the last shot before the shootout was extended.
Brendan Morrison, Brooks Laich and Fleischmann converted for the Capitals; Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik scored for the Panthers.
Down 2-0 at the start of the second period, Washington charged out of the locker room with an unassisted goal 18 seconds into the period by Jason Chimera, his second since his acquisition from Columbus in late December.
But a two-minute penalty for cross-checking on David Steckel gave Florida the first power-play chance of the night three minutes later, and Weiss took advantage, managing to slip a slap shot from close to the blue line between the pads of Neuvirth. About six minutes later, Neuvirth's night ended after Gregory Campbell flipped in another score for the 4-1 lead.
"Obviously, we have to figure out what we're doing at the start of games," Washington's Matt Bradley said. "Bouncing back shows a lot of character, but we have to figure out what's going on."
Boudreau defended his team's play in the first period, saying it was "10 times better than the previous night."
It was "bad breaks, little mistakes," Bradley said. "No matter what it is, you can't get behind in games in the first period."