The first place SE division Florida Panthers (14-8-4) faced their second place divisional foe the Washington Capitals (13-11-1) on Monday at the BankAmerica Center. Both teams were coming off of wins and to say this game is of utmost importance is an understatement. This game had the potential to be a four point swing. This was the 2nd meeting this year of these two teams. Last time the game was in Washington and the Capitals were able to shut out the Panthers 3-0.
The Capitals were coming in with a new leader behind the bench. Dale Hunter who replaced former coach Bruce Boudreau, has the task of trying to turn around a talented yet underachieving team. So far the Capitals were 1-2 under him coming into this game. The Capitals have a horrible record on the road of 4-7-4 which the Panthers took advantage of.
The Panthers are going into a tough week of good opponents against the Capitals, Bruins, Sabres and Rangers. To kick the week off with a win would give the Cats a huge confidence boost and serve notice to the entire Eastern conference that they are indeed for real.
I was looking for the Panthers to use their speed and skilled passing abilities against the Capitals and for the defensemen to jump into the play in the offensive zone when the opportunity presented itself. The Panthers met my expectations and more.
In Goal for the Capitals was Michal Neuvirth and for the Panthers Scott Clemmensen. Hmm did Capital’s goalie Vokoun not get the start because his former teammates know how to beat him? Perhaps, coaching was at play here.
The first period started off for the Panthers with a bang. They came out flying. The Cat’s special teams played large again in this game just as it had in San Jose. The Panthers scored on 2 of their three power plays. They got goals from Weiss, Santorelli and Kulikov. The lone blimp was when the Panthers got caught in an odd man rush and Capitals’ Knuble scored on Clemmensen. The first round was all Panthers and a certain league superstar was invisible. Of course I’m referring to number 8 in the Capitals jersey. Period ended 3-1 Panthers.
The second period started of course, with the Panthers on the power play. With a flurry around the net Bergenheim scored on a backhand wrap-around power play goal to make it 4-1 Panthers. This was the Panthers third power play goal. With some slick passing Weiss scored again from Fleischmann as the Capitals chased Fleischmann and left Weiss wide open 5-2. The Capitals scored late in the period from Eakin. Round 2 went Panthers.
In the third the Capitals had more urgency in their game and scored twice to get back into the game. The Capital got scores from Laich and Chimera to close out the scoring at 5-4 Panthers. The third period was ugly for the Panthers. The let up in the third is concerning as you can’t do that against the great teams. Round 3 to the Capitals. The Panthers separated themselves from the Capitals by 7 points but more importantly they may have psychologically separated themselves.
Thursday night the Panthers will face the defending Stanly Cup Champion Boston Bruins which will let the Cats know exactly how they measure up against the best in the league. If they can crack Tim Thomas and the Bruins the Panthers will prove they are indeed for real. The Florida “Dream team” does wear red uniforms, but with a cat on it instead of a flame.