WASHINGTON -- When Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway to lift the Capitals into the lead midway through the third period, they were on the brink of stealing a game that likely would've sunk the Panthers' chances.
But after two agonizingly close chances in the final minutes — a Sergei Bobrovsky save on a Marcus Johansson breakaway and a Garnet Hathaway shot to the empty net that went just wide — the Panthers stole a game that felt like it belonged to them with a tying goal late.
Then in overtime, Carter Verhaeghe lifted the Panthers to a 3-2 win to tie the series headed back to Florida.
“This is going to be long series, we know that before,” Kuznetsov said. “Both buildings is amazing atmosphere to play, that’s what we’ve been waiting for long time. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but it’s still good experience and fun to play.”
The Capitals were outshot 32-16 at all strengths, allowed four power play chances (three in the second period, consecutively) and relied a bit too heavily on goalie Ilya Samsonov. In 44 minutes of five-on-five play, the Capitals were out-chanced 49-27 and outshot 20-10, though they did create more high-danger opportunities (8-7).
The end result was a weird game where the Capitals were both lucky to have forced overtime, but unlucky to have gotten there in the first place.
“The third period was our best period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We came out and played hard. The first half of the game was kind of mucked up by power plays and penalty kills and there wasn’t a lot of 5-on-5 time. Not many 5-on-5 chances. We gave up a little bit too much 4-on-4 but we pushed in the third period and got it to where we wanted.”
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The second period was by far the Capitals’ worst and the Panthers’ best, as the Panthers put 12 shots on Samsonov aided by six minutes of power play time. The Capitals’ penalty kill held them off, though, as they escaped the period tied at one.
Washington’s 16 shots taken were the fewest of either team so far through four games of the first round series and it’s something the Capitals will have to fix headed toward a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday.
“Again, they fired a lot of shots,” Laviolette said. “That’s what I was saying, the second period probably wasn’t our best period. The first wasn’t a good reflection of five-on-five. It’s power play, penalty kill, power play, power play, penalty kill, penalty kill, penalty kill and it’s just, the period’s broken up. I thought in the third period we got moving in the right direction and pressed and we got to where we wanted, but there’s not a lot of room out there 5-on-5.”
In Game 5, though, the Capitals will have to bounce back from a game that they nearly stole to push the Panthers to the edge.
The Panthers outshot the Capitals in every period and significantly out-chanced them at both five-on-five and at all strengths.
But how close the Capitals came to keeping home ice and putting all the pressure on the Panthers will sting for as long as the series lasts and should it not go Washington’s way, perhaps longer.
“No panicking,” Alex Ovechkin said. “It is playoffs, so everybody has to be ready for everything.”
All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.