Once the NHL All-Star break was complete, the Capitals came to Florida with every intention of grabbing the Southeast Division lead and staking a claim to what has belonged to them the last four years. One standings point earned in an overtime loss in Tampa Tuesday gave them a hold on first-place for one night. One night later that lead was relinquished back to the Florida Panthers, who doubled up the Caps, 4-2.
Michal Neuvirth and Scott Clemmensen were the goalies Wednesday night and both were able to get their evenings off to a fine start with sharp first-period play. Neuvirth was especially strong stopping a pair of well-placed tip-in attempts. Florida seemed determined to strike on deflections from the high-slot area, 10 to 15 feet in front of the crease.
The Caps reached double figures in shots in the first period, a rarity of late. Clemmensen appeared to be on solid footing throughout opening frame. Former Cap Jose Theodore continues to be bothered by a knee injury and has yet to face Washington this year.
The second period began with an unusual goal from Mikael Samuelsson. It was my opinion that he came down the right wing, on his strong side, looked around defenseman Dennis Wideman as if he was going to dump the puck in the corner, and crossed-up Neuvirth by clanging a shot from outside the blueline off the post and into the goal. Neuvirth, who admitted after the game he was caught cheating on the play, actually took a step to go behind the net to cut off what he expected to be a dump-in, and when he realized the shot was directly on goal, he was too late to get back.
Brooks Laich knotted the score at 1-1 with a well-placed snap shot high on the glove side of Clemmensen. He now has scored seven times on the Panther goalie in 12 career games against him.
The score stayed 1-1 through 40 minutes of play with neither team having many power-play opportunities. But Florida would strike when given one early in period three. Matt Hendricks was called for goalie interference as he came charging to the net and while falling to the ice had his trail leg and skate boot knock the mask off the head of Clemmensen.
The Panthers used a pretty four-man passing sequence to find Samuelsson 40 feet in front of Neuvirth. With Laich attempting to block the shot, he screened his own goalie and Samuelssons wrister zipped past Michal for a 2-1 lead.
Florida would score again about five minutes later, but it didnt come easily. Tomas Kopecky took the puck to the net, his initial shot caromed up and off the body of Stephen Weiss who was crashing through the crease. As soon as the puck entered the net, referee Stephane Auger gave the wash-out, no-goal signal.
Video review was required to see if Weiss intentionally batted the puck into the net. After a three-minute phone call, the officials in Toronto told Auger that there was no intent from Weiss and that the puck just bounced off him and into the goal. It was bad news for the Caps.
John Carlson gave Washington hope scoring on a blazing slapshot with 2:21 left on the clock. A few moments later, Dale Hunter would call timeout and lift Neuvirth for the extra attacker.
Unfortunately, Panther forward Shawn Matthias picked up a loose puck in neutral ice and strolled in with an empty net waiting for him. First place would belong to Florida for this night.
The Caps will face-off with Montreal on Saturday afternoon. That will be a 2 p.m. start from Bell Centre.
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