I was doubly tempted to title this postgame summary Road Kill, because life on the road has been killing the Caps, and also because, for at least this night, their penalty-killing led to their ultimate demise. The team rallied to make a valiant comeback effort from a 5-1 deficit, but you dont play big-time pro sports and seek out moral victories. A 5-4 loss was a near-miss and yet it hurts just the same as any other setback.
The Panthers flew cross-country yesterday after dispatching the San Jose Sharks Saturday night. A lot of folks who follow them regularly have said that their top offensive line has been a real handful, and that Jose Theodore has been giving them extraordinary goal tending. The Caps wouldnt have to worry about their former teammate in the nets since Theo was sick with the flu. They did have to contend with Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, and Kris Versteeg, and that trio proved to be very effective.
The Panthers took the lead on a Weiss goal that clicked off a defender and past Michal Neuvirth. Those seeing-eye pucks continue to deflect against the Caps far too often for anyones liking.
It would only take 13 seconds for Mike Santorelli to cash-in the second Florida goal. Santorelli loves it when the Caps are on his schedule; he has five goals in seven career games against Washington. His goal tonight came off a knuckle-puck wrist shot that handcuffed Neuvirth. The goalie will be the first guy to tell he has to have that one even if the pucks trajectory was tricky.
With a 2-0 lead the Panthers were playing with house money, and the Caps kept giving them power-play opportunities. Neuvirth made two excellent stops on Sean Bergenheim, but was undone by a Dmitri Kulikov slapper that squirted through his pads to make it 3-zip.
The Capitals were fortunate to get one back before the first period was complete. Dmitry Orlov hit Marcus Johansson with a nice pass at center, Johansson fed Mike Knuble racing down the wing, and he buried a slapshot between the led pads of Scott Clemmensen.
I wish the Caps had put more pucks on Clemmensen earlier in the game because for a time he looked a bit unsure of himself. But he would settle down and his team would improve the lead.
Bergenheim would stuff in a wraparound backhand for the Panthers third power-play goal in five chances.
Weiss would be set up beautifully by Fleischmann for a 5-1 lead. Too many Caps defenders took a backseat and watched their old buddy Flash create some magic on that one.
The last goal of the second period belonged to Cody Eakin who ripped home a centering pass from Mathieu Perreault. That strike came with less than 30 seconds left in the middle frame and gave the guests some hope.
Their spirits were greatly lifted again when Brooks Laich beat Clemmensen on the blocker side with just under eight minutes to go in regulation. Jason Chimera would follow with a deflection for his team leading 11th marker, which set the stage for a frantic finish.
With six attackers on and Neuvirth on the bench, the comeback came up just short as Clemmensen was able to lockdown the victory with a couple of clutch stops and the help of his defense corps, which was counting its blessings that there werent five more minutes to play.
Ugly road losses in Winnipeg, in Toronto, in Buffalo, and for long stretches tonight in Florida have to be eating at this Caps club.
Theyll sit with the Senators in Ottawa Wednesday and hopefully get things straightened out.
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