The Caps scored early and often and rode a hot goaltender to a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers last night at Verizon Center. With the win, the Caps vaulted past the Panthers into first place in the Southeast Division and a spot in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin scored twice and Tomas Vokoun stopped 42 shots for his fourth shutout of the season.
The fans were barely in their seats when the Caps lit the red light for an early lead. Jason Chimera dug the puck out of the corner and fed a pass to Matthieu Perreault who slid the puck under Panthers’ goalie Scott Clemmensen just 13 seconds into the game.
The Caps thoroughly dominated the early going with aggressive play in the offensive zone. There were several miscues in the D-zone, but netminder Tomas Vokoun was a brick wall when they needed him. Four minutes into the game, Panthers’ ace Stephen Weiss took a one-timer in the low slot; Vokoun stoned him.
The Caps capitalized on a power play opportunity nine minutes into the game. Dennis Wideman carried the puck into the offensive zone, froze Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver with a deke, then slipped a pass to Alex Ovechkin sliding down the left board. Ovechkin skated in unobstructed and beat Clemmensen between the pads to make it 2-0. “It was a pretty play by Wides,” said Ovie. “I saw Brouwer on the other side, but took the shot and I got kind of lucky.”
Late in the first period the Panthers pressed hard to try to get back in the game. Mikael Samuelsson slipped through the Caps defensive pair only to be stopped cold by Vokoun again. The Panthers outshot the Capitals 32-14 over the course of the second and third periods. But Vokoun stood tall to blank Florida for the second time this season. “We made some mistakes and gave up a few breakaways,” said coach Dale Hunter. “Tomas came up huge for us in this game.”
The Caps started the second period short-handed. Even with a 2-goal lead, they played aggressively and caught the Panthers’ defense sleepwalking through a line change. Matt Hendricks dropped a pass to John Carlson who found Chimera crashing the net. Chimera scooped in his own rebound for a shorty to make it 3-0. The rout was on.
In the middle of the second period, Ovechkin reminded the rest of the league why he can never be left alone in the offensive zone. Moving left to right above the circles, he beat Clemmensen with an seemingly effortless wrist shot to the upper left corner of the net to make it 4-0. The Panther defensemen will be studying the film on that one for a couple of days.
The Caps have the toughest remaining schedule in the division based on the current average winning percentage of remaining opponents. The Panthers, by contrast, have the easiest remaining schedule in the division. The two teams will face each other two more times this season, including the Caps final regular season home game on April 5.