Capitals Get Over The Postseason Hump
By Stephen London
The Washington Capitals had an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot April 5, but they had to beat the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers. The Capitals used the home crowd to get revved up during the beginning of the game. After the Caps took an early lead, they continued the game in a more defensive mentality, which eventually ended in a 4-2 Caps final.
The Capitals started early during this game, with the help of Jay Beagle getting his fourth goal of the season. Troy Brouwer was taking a shot on net when Beagle, trying to deflect the shot, took a hit from the shot in the side. After the puck hit him, it bounced perfectly to his stick for a quick shot in the slot. The Beagle quick shot beat the Panthers goaltender, and former Capital Jose Theodore on his blocker side.
The Capitals scored again to start the second period, with a great play from Alex Ovechkin and linemate Marcus Johansson. Ovi drew the defense to him coming down the side, dropped the puck to the trailer, Johansson, then darted to the front of the net. Johansson took a shot from the top of the circles, which left a perfect rebound for the Caps captain to sweep up and put in the net as he crossed the goal mouth.
Michal Neuvrith, the starting goaltender against the Panthers, could make it through only a period and change. Playing at a high level, Neuvy went into the butterfly during the second period. Marco Strum of the Panthers was doing a good job at screening the goaltender, but took a step back. Neuvy was right behind him, causing Strum's skates to slip out from underneath him, and he landed on Neuvy's overextended knee.
Neuvirth looked as if he was in serious pain and he could not put any pressure on his injured leg as he was skating off the ice. This is now the second goaltender on the injured list for the Capitals; Neuvy's knee injury joins Tomas Vokoun's lower-body injury, which has kept him out since March 16.
The Capitals were not out of the proverbial woods yet, even after Brooks Laich got the third goal to increase their lead. The Panthers switched goaltenders after the third goal. The Panthers used a timeout to get focused again, and cut the lead down to two before the end of the second period.
Mikael Samuelsson of the Panthers beat Braden Holtby with a shot on a string to the top shelf. This goal could have been enough for the Panthers to regain some momentum before the start of the third period. Usually in this circumstance, when a three-goal lead is cut to a two-goal lead, the leading team needs to get one more goal to put away the opposition.
The Capitals played hard-nosed defense during the third period, letting the Panthers get only six shots. But one of those six gathered a weird deflection and lobbed past an already stretched Holtby to bring the game within one. Ed Jovanovski's goal came within the first minute of the third period.
Regardless of that quick goal the Panthers scored, the Capitals still maintained their composure. Much later during the final period, Alex Semin had a fantastic play to help solidify the lead, and give the Capitals a fifth straight postseason berth.
The Capitals have one game left, against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. If the Capitals win and the Panthers lose to the Carolina Hurricanes, they would jump the Panthers for the lead in the Southeast Division, moving from eighth place in the conference to third place.
• With Ovechkin's goal, he has 16 points (11 goals, four assists) during the last 15 games.
• Laich's prediction earlier this season that the Capitals would make the playoffs has come true.
• Karl Alzner and John Carlson are back now as a defensive pairing.
• Semin's goal late during the third was his only shot on net the entire game.
• Ten different Capitals got on the score sheet against the Panthers.
Posted April 6, 2012