Florida lost those games on Washington ice, though, and they came into this game well-rested, having played their most recent game last Sunday.
Michal Neuvirth got his first start since suffering an ankle injury on November 14th in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers. The layoff did not appear to leave him having to scrape off any rust. He was sharp early and needed to be, the Panthers jumping on the Caps with early pressure. The Caps settled down in front of Neuvirth, though, and held the Panthers without a shot on goal over the last 9:22 of the period.
Meanwhile, the Caps would break the ice late in the period. Mike Santorelli was sent off for goaltender interference at 16:40, a product of his getting tangled up with Neuvirth behind the Caps’ net as the goalie tried to play the puck around the boards. Late in the ensuing power play John Carlson sent a drive toward the Florida net. The puck hit defenseman Ed Jovanovski in front and caromed to Mike Ribeiro, to goalie Jose Theodore’s left. Ribeiro snapped the loose puck over Theodore’s blocker on the short side at 18:22 to give the Caps the lead heading into the first intermission.
The second period started just fine for the visitors when Dmitry Orlov jumped into a hole in the Florida defense and one-timed a pass from Mathieu Perreault past Theodore to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. The lead almost held up heading into the second intermission, but saw it halved late. Sean Bergenheim was penalized for tripping at the 16:05 mark, but the Caps could do little with the man-advantage. As the penalty expired, Panther defenseman Filip Kuba pitch-forked the puck up and out of the defensive zone, just as Bergenheim was exiting the penalty box. He collected the puck behind the defense and skated in alone on Neuvirth, depositing the puck into the back of the net on a nicely played deke to his backhand.
The Caps restored their two-goal lead in the first minute of the third period when Ribeiro struck again, converting a pass sent by Brooks Laich from behind the Panther cage. Florida stepped up the pressure, though, and the Caps eventually cracked. Tomas Fleischmann sent a wrist shot past Neuvirth at 15:22 on a nice cross-ice feed by Peter Meuller. Less than three minutes later Flieschmann set up Kris Versteeg for the equalizer that sent the game into an extra session.
In the overtime Florida pressed early, Fleischmann hitting a post behind Neuvirth, and Neuvirth having to make a fine save on Versteeg on the rebound of that shot. It would be the only shot on goal that Florida would record, however.
Midway through the extra period Alex Ovechkin slid the puck to Nicklas Backstrom in the neutral zone. With the teams at 4-on-4 Backstrom had more open ice to work with and maneuvered himself into the middle of the ice as he crossed the Florida blue line. The Panthers were keying on keeping Backstrom from feeding Ovechkin on his left, but Backstrom had other ideas. He dropped the puck for Mike Green, and just as if he teed it up, the puck sat still for Green to wind up and fire a slap shot that beat Theodore cleanly over his glove for the game winner.
Capitals 4 – Panthers 3 (OT)