SUNRISE, Fla. — The Washington Capitals had a three-goal lead early in the second period Wednesday night against the Florida Panthers, a pivotal Game 5 win firmly within reach, and their confidence was soaring.
“There were two games that were played,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “There was the game to push it to 3-0 where I liked everything we did, including the power play and the penalty kill and five-on-five play. And then there was the game that took place after that. . . . We got to get back to that first part of that game, and you got to play it consistently for 60 minutes.”
The Capitals lost their grip against a team that has specialized in rallies this season — Florida had an NHL-best 29 comeback victories en route to winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular season team. The Panthers never looked panicked Wednesday as they methodically came back against a Capitals team now one loss from a fourth straight first-round playoff exit.
Things started well for the visitors with T.J. Oshie scoring the first of his two goals, tipping home John Carlson’s shot 7:09 into the first period with the Capitals on the power play. The Capitals added to that with two goals inside of 90 seconds early in the second. The first came from defenseman Justin Schultz, who scored off a rebound at 2:13, then Oshie finished off an odd-man rush for his fifth goal of the series at 3:38.
Then things went south — first slowly, then in a hurry. Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe, who finished with two goals and three assists, got the Panthers on the board with 13:10 left in the period by picking up a loose puck off the boards and beating Ilya Samsonov.
About six minutes later, forward Patric Hornqvist cut the Capitals’ lead to one, beating Samsonov on a breakaway. Sam Reinhart tied it up at 3 a little more than two minutes after that when he jammed the puck past Samsonov on the left post.
“For a lot of the game, I like the way we played,” Oshie said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t show up on the scoreboard and they took advantage of their chances. There was a lot of the game where I thought we did a good job.”
The arena was booming entering the third, and the home team continued to ride that momentum, with Verhaeghe scoring the game-winner at 3:04 of the third. He stripped the puck from defenseman Dmitry Orlov before racing into the offensive zone and finishing a feed from captain Aleksander Barkov.
“We were still in good position going into the third on the road here,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “So we had a chance but didn’t take advantage of it.”
Claude Giroux finished a two-on-one rush, beating Samsonov with 4:05 left, to seal it.
“Kind of shot ourselves in the foot here,” Oshie said. “They’re a great team. Can’t give them offense. They’re going to find a way to create something on their own.”
Samsonov was sharp in the first period, turning aside all 15 shots that came his way. He stopped 18 over the next two periods combined.
Samsonov was making his third straight start and seemed to be finding his footing after strong showings in Games 3 and 4. Before his Game 5 start, he had a 1.66 goals against average and a .949 save percentage this postseason.
He also withstood an injury scare with 4:20 left in the second, when Barkov caught Samsonov up high with his stick. The Capitals’ trainer came out to check him, but the Russian never left the ice.
The Capitals remained without injured winger Tom Wilson. Wilson traveled with the team and is still listed as day-to-day, but he did not participate in Thursday’s morning skate. He has yet to practice with the team since suffering a lower-body injury early in Game 1.
Rookie Connor McMichael again took Wilson’s place in the lineup. McMichael’s secondary assist on Oshie’s second goal of the game was the first postseason point of his career.
The Panthers were also down a man for the first time in the series. Forward Mason Marchment, who was a physical force in the first four games, did not play with an undisclosed injury. Maxim Mamin made his postseason debut in his place.
What to read on the Washington Capitals
Stanley Cup playoffs: Tampa Bay built a hockey powerhouse, but is it Colorado’s turn for glory?
The story of the Caps’ 2022 postseason is one of missed opportunities
They support Ukraine. So they can’t support Alex Ovechkin.
Evgeny Kuznetsov is the Caps’ all-smiles all-star. He wants you to smile, too.
She’s a 56-year-old former figure skater. Now she’s coaching kids and Capitals.
Tom Wilson’s long-shot Olympics hopes were dashed. But his NHL career continues to impress.