By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 12:14 AM
SUNRISE, FLA. - There were positives to take from the Washington Capitals' overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, like the point they left South Florida with or the ability to rally from a three-goal deficit, but those offered little solace in a game that the team believed was well within its grasp.
Florida defenseman Dennis Wideman scored 2 minutes 51 seconds into overtime to give the Panthers a 4-3 win at BankAtlantic Center and prevent the Capitals from wrapping up a completed comeback. But, several players said, a better start to the contest might have helped Washington snare a full two points.
"They were outworking us in the beginning and we can't let that happen," said Marcus Johansson, who recorded the first two-goal game of his career. "We've got to work harder, I think that's the main thing. We've got ourselves to blame here and it's not good at all."
By forcing overtime against the Panthers, Washington has earned at least a point in each of the past nine games and they are now tied with the Lightning at 55 points, setting up a showdown for the top spot in the Southeast Division Wednesday in Tampa Bay.
Along with goals by Johansson and Mike Knuble, goaltender Michal Neuvirth was instrumental in helping the Capitals force overtime as he made 37 saves, including 18 in the first period, in his first start since Dec. 23. Although things weren't lopsided from the opening faceoff, Washington eroded its own effort when Nicklas Backstrom and Knuble were called for minor penalties, boarding and interference respectively, on the same shift to give Florida a full two minutes 5-on-3.
Washington, which has found a source of strength in its now sixth-ranked penalty kill (84.6 percent) over the past several weeks, withstood the first minute with the help of a little luck as a puck rang off the post. But then a shot by Stephen Weiss trickled through Neuvirth's legs with the rebound finding Mike Santorelli open by the left post, where he fired it into the open cage to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead halfway through the period.
Less than three minutes later, Marty Reasoner redirected a point shot by Bryan McCabe past a screened Neuvirth to make it 2-0. It wasn't just that the Panthers held a lead on the scoreboard, though. Florida was heavily out-chancing the Capitals and outshooting them 20-7 through 20 minutes of play, forcing Neuvirth to make several much-needed saves to prevent the Panthers from adding to their advantage.
"He was really good," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If it wasn't for him, the first period would have been 5-0. He stole a point for us."
Washington came out with more hop in the second but once again a pair of penalties - this time a holding infraction by Jason Chimera and hooking by John Carlson - would give Florida a lengthy (49-second) two-man advantage that the Panthers would convert on. Neuvirth made an initial save but when the Panthers converged on the crease, David Booth was able to find the puck and make it 3-0. By game's end, the Capitals would allow three power-play goals - the first time they've allowed more than one in a single contest since Nov. 5 against the Boston Bruins.
"It's tough breaks when you're killing 5-on-3s," said Jay Beagle, who saw 2:04 of short-handed ice time. "There's a lot of different things that can go wrong. A couple were bad bounces, but we've got to find a way to get it done, get in front of shots and that's the game."
For all of the Capitals' continuing struggles to find their offensive spark - Washington finished 0 for 6 on the power play against Florida - it only took 3:20 for them to climb back into the game. Johansson notched his fourth goal of the season with a shot that squeaked between Tomas Vokoun's pads after a give-and-go with Brooks Laich on a 2-on-1 to put Washington on the board. Next it was the top line's turn as Alex Ovechkin made a crisp cross-ice pass through traffic Knuble who made it 3-2 with a shot that went over Vokoun's shoulder.
Although they trailed by one, the Capitals appeared in control of the game's momentum. Johansson tied the score at 3 when he poked a loose puck by Vokoun's feet over the goal line with just under 13 minutes remaining in regulation.
Washington couldn't find a way to seal the victory and when the contest drifted into overtime, the Panthers appeared rejuvenated.
All four shots taken in overtime were Florida attempts and when Mike Green went to the box for hooking, the Panthers became opportunistic once again.
"I think we've got to see the positive in that we came back from 3-0," Johansson said of how the Capitals must move forward with an important game looming against the Lightning. "But we've got to play like we did in the last half and work hard the whole 60 minutes and we'll be good."