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A stellar Ilya Samsonov and the Caps take Game 3 — and the series lead

Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves Saturday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
5 min

The chants of “Sammy! Sammy! Sammy!” were loud and clear at Capital One Arena on Saturday, an afternoon when goalie Ilya Samsonov made save after save in the Capitals’ emphatic 6-1 win over the Florida Panthers. The netminder, who has struggled to find consistency all season, was stellar in Game 3, finishing with 29 saves to help tilt the first-round series in Washington’s favor.

“I was close to crying [when I heard the chants],” Samsonov said. “Thank you, fans. It was important. Thank you, team. A lot of blocks today. It’s more important we play together, and we got great result.”

Washington holds a 2-1 series lead over Florida, with Game 4 set for Monday night in Chinatown. The Capitals, who are playing without injured winger Tom Wilson, came into the series against the Panthers as heavy underdogs and are determined to keep their momentum.

“This game — if we don’t follow it up, then that’s on us,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s got to be pointed from right now. We’ve got to make sure that our mind-set is knowing exactly where they’re at. Our preparation, our work, our detail: That has to be the priority.”

The Capitals rebounded from an early 1-0 deficit and held a 3-1 lead entering the final period. Washington kept building its advantage late. Captain Alex Ovechkin got his first goal of the Stanley Cup playoffs midway through the third with a powerful blast that beat Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Defenseman John Carlson added an empty-netter with 4:20 left in the third, and Garnet Hathaway scored with less than a minute remaining.

“The boys did a really good job from the drop of the puck all the way through,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “The score might have been 6-1, but we didn’t score our first goal for a while, and we had to grind it out for a little while and keep going and going and going.”

Samsonov’s lone error happened early — a goal from Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau that came just 2:45 into the game. It was Florida’s second shot on goal. Huberdeau was crushed by Ovechkin on the other end of the ice but then raced into the offensive zone and unleashed the snipe past Samsonov.

Washington bounced back, though, getting goals from Oshie, Marcus Johansson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Ovechkin, Carlson and Hathaway.

“We just came out harder,” Johansson said. “We responded. Last game kind of pissed us off a little bit, and we played a good 60 minutes.”

The Capitals equalized late in the first period, when Oshie deflected Ovechkin’s shot through traffic on the power play. It was Oshie’s second goal of the series and Ovechkin’s third assist of the postseason.

Johansson then scored with a pretty backhand at 9:51 of the second.

Anthony Mantha, who has played his best hockey of the season during this series, started the play with his heavy forecheck. Then his backhanded shot banked off Panthers defenseman Ben Chiarot before Johansson collected the rebound and buried it in front. Johansson also gave credit to Samsonov, who made a big stop on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov on the previous shift.

“It was an unbelievable save,” Johansson said. “Sammy was unbelievable for us tonight. He kept us in it when we needed to. That’s the way you need these games to go. He makes a big save, and then we go the other way and get one. It makes a big difference.”

Van Riemsdyk’s goal at 18:49 of the second from the left circle made it 3-1.

The Capitals opened the second period with two successful penalty kills, leaving them 9 for 9 in the series against Florida’s potent offense. The momentum from the two kills gave way to Johansson’s goal midway through the second.

“We’ve had some huge saves when things do break down, and that’s always crucial on the PK,” van Riemsdyk said. “They’re obviously an unbelievable group. … I’m sure they’ll come back next game looking to put pucks in the net, and we’ve got to do our best to kind of adjust.”

Bobrovsky had looked sharp in this series. But in Game 3, he left too many rebounds up for grabs, and the Capitals, after a few early missed opportunities, capitalized.

Samsonov got the nod for Washington over Vitek Vanecek, who started Games 1 and 2 in Sunrise, Fla. Vanecek made 30 saves in the opener but allowed five goals on 18 shots in Game 2.

Wilson, who suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 and is still listed as day-to-day, missed his second straight game. Without him, rookie Connor McMichael made his postseason debut.

“We’re a successful team,” Laviolette said. “We had 100 points [in the regular season], and our goaltenders were a big part of it. It’s just the way that it’s gone for us with two young goaltenders in their second year. And so they both have had really good moments and played really well for stretches, but this is how we’ve operated for the past two years, and they’ve done a good job.”