The Caps came into the game with a four-game winning streak and points in nine straight contests (8-0-1), while the Panthers entered the contest with consecutive wins and points in 10 of their last 11 games (6-1-4). It was a back and forth affair, but the Caps kept clawing back, eventually tying the game in the third period and winning it in overtime behind “Top Line Tom” Wilson, 5-4.
It took just 25 seconds for the Caps to break on top. Moving the puck around the perimeter of the offensive zone, Alex Ovechkin fed Michal Kempny at the left point. He sent the puck to the Florida net, where John Carlson was lurking above the crease. His redirection of the pass handcuffed goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and trickled through him over the goal line to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
Florida needed less than two minutes to tie the game. Jonas Siegenthaler wiped out inside his own blue line, and Frank Vatrano took full advantage. He circled around the fallen Siegenthaler and slipped a seeing eye puck through the pads of goalie Braden Holtby at the 1:55 mark to tie the game at one apiece.
Washington went on a power play when Aleksander Barkov was sent off for interference 2:22 into the period. It was Florida who had the best early chance on the Caps power play, breaking out on a 3-on-1, only Alex Ovechkin back for the Caps. Vatrano took the shot and rang the post on Holtby’s blocker side and out. At the other end, Lars Eller had a chance but snapped the puck off the crossbar behind Bobrovsky and out. The power play expired with no further danger.
Brett Connolly took a chunk out of his old team in the 15th minute when he redirected a drive from the right point by Anton Stralman out of the air and under Holtby to make it 2-1, Panthers, 14:26 into the period. That would end the scoring for the period.
-- John Carlson’s goal gave him points in 13 of 17 games so far this season. No defenseman has posted points in more games.
-- The Caps had only eight shot attempts more than 17 minutes into the period but finished with 11 (seven on goal). Florida had 23 shots attempts, 11 on goal.
-- Only seven of 18 skaters had shot attempts in the first period, four of them with only one. Carlson led in this category with three (three shots on goal).
It was Florida scoring in the first minute of a period to start the second frame. Evgeni Dadonov circled off the left wing wall to pick up a loose puck and fed Barkov for a one timer in the slot that beat Holtby on the glove side 27 seconds into the period to make it 3-1, Panthers.
Washington was awarded a power play in the sixth minute when Brian Boyle slashed Radko Gudas. The Caps made them pay with a smart passing play by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Playing catch with John Carlson, Kuznetsov took a return feed and stepped up in the right wing circle. Showing shot, he instead fed the puck through the slot to Ovechkin, who one timed the puck into a wide open net to make it 3-2, 6:13 into the period.
The Caps went a man short when Tom Wilson was sent off for high-sticking Barkov 7:03 into the period. The Caps had the penalty almost killed off, but with four seconds left in the Panther power play, Garnet Hathaway was sent to the box for slashing. The Caps were able to kill off the second half of what was effectively a double minor penalty without damage.
The hard work paid off. Evgeny Kuznetsov won faceoff to Bobrovsky’s right, and John Carlson collected the puck at the blue line. He fed it to Ovechkin at the left wing half wall, where Ovechkin sent a harmless looking shot that was redirected by MacKenzie Weegar through Bobrovsky. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Weegar is a Panther defenseman. The Caps tied the game at three apiece 12:14 into the period.
Washington had another chance on the power play late in the period when Keith Yandle was whistled for slashing at the 14:13 mark. Florida killed the penalty to maintain the tie. The Caps returned the favor with Orlov going off on a hooking call 16:42 into the period. But like the previous Washington penalty, the Caps almost killed it off before taking another, Lars Eller going off for tripping, 18:37 into the period. The second time was the charm for the Panthers. With Tom Wilson down after blocking a shot and trying to get back in position in the high slot, Dadonov one-timed a feed from Jonathan Huberdeau from the low slot to give the Panthers a 4-3 lead with 1:01 left in the period. That would be how the teams went to the intermission.
-- Florida had a 13-10 edge on shots on goal in the period and a 21-17 advantage in shot attempts.
-- Ovechkin’s two goals in the period gave him 13 in 17 games, slightly ahead of last year’s pace when he scored his 13th goal in his 19th game.
-- Garnet Hathaway led the team with four takeaways through 40 minutes.
Alex Ovechkin almost made it three-for-three in first minute goals for the evening when he walked around Weegar, but Bobrovsky made the save. Tom Wilson did make it three-for-three when Kuznetsov circled out of the corner and centered the puck for Wilson closing on the top of the crease. He redirected the puck over Bobrovsky’s shoulder, and it was 4-4, 44 seconds into the period.
Bobrovsky kept the Panthers in it with some marvelous saves over the next five minutes, but the Panthers went a man shot six minutes into the period when Dryden Hunt was sent off on a tripping call. The Caps had some good looks by Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana, but could not solve Bobrovsky.
Washington went a man down when Michal Kempny was charged with a tripping call 8:59 into the period. The Caps killed it off to preserve the tie. That was how the teams went to overtime.
It was a case of big save at one end makes for big ending at the other end. Braden Holtby stopped Aaron Ekblad from the top of the crease right off the faceoff to open the extra frame, and that enabled the Caps to break out with the Panthers trapped in their own end. John Carlson skated the puck down the left side and fed Tom Wilson closing on the net to finish a play with a tap in past Bobrovsky 17 seconds into the overtime to send the Caps off as winners, 5-4.
-- Michal Kempny had an assist on the Carlson goal, giving him points in seven of the nine games in which he played after returning from rehabbing his surgically repaired hamstring. He reached the ten-point mark in his ninth game after taking 27 games to get there last season. The Caps are now 8-0-1 since Kempny returned from injury.
-- Alex Ovechkin’s two goals in the second period gave him 136 career multi-goal games, breaking a tie with Mike Gartner for seventh-most all-time. He finished with three points, giving him 12 points in his last seven games.
-- John Carlson’s assist on Ovechkin’s first goal gave him nine multi-point games this season, most among league defensemen. His assist on Tom Wilson’s overtime game-winner gave him his fourth three-point game of the season, also tops among defensemen.
-- Kuznetsov’s assist on the Wilson goal in the third period gave him his second consecutive multi-point game (two two-assist games), third in five games, and fourth this season. He finished with three assists, breaking a tie with Bengt Gustafsson, Adam Oates, and Mike Ridley for fifth place in three-assist games since 1979-1980 and tied Dale Hunter for fourth place (14).
-- The two goals in the second period for Ovechkin gave him three points on the night, his 108th career three-point game, third among active players, trailing only Sidney Crosby (140) and Joe Thornton (111).
-- Carlson’s three points broke a tie with Kevin Hatcher for third most points, all-time, among defensemen in franchise history and tied Scott Stevens for second place (429). He trails only Calle Johansson on the all-time list (474).
-- Tom Wilson’s overtime goal was his second of the game, giving him six career multi-goal games.
-- Florida had a 36-31 edge in shots and a 62-52 edge in shot attempts.
-- Ovechkin finished with eight shots on goal and 15 shot attempts. Thirteen of those attempts came in the last two periods and overtime.
-- Give Braden Holtby credit. In what was a back and forth game for 40 minutes, he slammed the door in the third period and overtime, stopping all 12 shots he faced.
In the end…
This is a team and place that often gives the Caps fits. Some teams, some venues are like that. But the Caps gritted this out, got big contributions from big players, and Tom Wilson showed yet again how he is progressing as a hockey player, not just a physical presence. It was as solid a win as the Caps have had this season, even if you are not a fan of fire wagon hockey. If you are inclined to complain, just remember, the Caps are now 9-0-1 in their last ten games.