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Capitals Punishment: Florida Panthers 6, Washington 3

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The Washington Capitals woulda, coulda, should have had the Florida Panthers on the ropes in their first-round playoff series last May, coming within a few inches of taking a commanding lead had they just scored into an empty net.

Instead, the Panthers rallied to tie and win Game 4 — and have not lost to the Capitals since.

Florida did it again on Tuesday night, getting goals from some unexpected sources before having to hold on for a 6-3 win which could go a long way in deciding who gets that last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sure, there is a lot of hockey left to be played.

But both the Florida Panthers and Capitals really needed this win — and it was Florida which came to play and got its fifth consecutive win (counting the playoffs) against its former Southeast Division rivals.

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With the win, the Panthers pulled into a tie — in points — with the Capitals for the final wild card position although Washington still has a game in hand, so technically, eighth place remains theirs for now.

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Florida and Washington also have to keep their eyes on the likes of the Islanders, Sabres and Red Wings who are coming up the ranks in trying to get that slot.

On Thursday, however, it was the Florida Panthers who looked like the more desperate team.

Who were those unexpected goal scorers you ask?

It was not Sasha Barkov or Matthew Tkachuk — or even Carter Verhaeghe — doing the damage (although they did some).

Florida took a 3-0 lead by the midway point of the second period thanks to goals from Gus Forsling, Marc Staal and Colin White.

You read that right.

For Forsling, it was his first goal in the past 10 games; White his first in three games played since he was a healthy scratch for three games before jumping in to replace Sam Bennett.

Staal got his first goal as a member of the Panthers as it has been 11 months since he scored in an NHL game — a span of 76 games. His last goal came as a member of the Red Wings while in Edmonton last March 15.

Good timing.

Florida certainly needed those goals as Washington scored a pair of power play goals late in the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 4-3.

The Panthers had a couple of shots at the empty net before Anton Lundell iced the game with 1:03 left.

Sam Reinhart got one as well as, again, this game turned out to be a lot closer than the score may indicate.

”We came out real fast in the first period,” coach Paul Maurice said. “We wanted to get right back on our horse and we were cooking.”

GOALS OF THE GAME

  • Panthers 1, Capitals 0 (9:10, 1st): The Panthers did a real good job of keeping this puck in the zone with Eetu Luostarinen forcing a turnover in the offensive zone, sliding it to Carter Verhaeghe who returned it with Luostarinen feeding Gus Forsling for his seventh of the season. Nice, nice goal.
  • Panthers 2, Capitals 0 (1:32, 2nd): I know I have confused the Staal brothers a few times writing up quick tweets during games — but this one was all MARC Staal as he gets his first as a Panther. Marc Staal teed off on a feed from Brandon Montour, blistering one from inside the blue line. First goal in 76 games.
  • Panthers 3, Capitals 0 (7:20, 2nd): Anton Lundell and Colin White got loose on a breakaway with White walking in on Darcy Kuemper and beating him with a tight backhanded shot.
  • Panthers 3, Capitals 1 (15:51, 2nd): T.J. Oshie let one fly from inside the line and Dylan Strome was down low, got a piece of it and knocked it past Sergei Bobrovsky.
  • Panthers 4, Capitals 1 (17:03, 2nd): Sasha Barkov and Grigori Denisenko came down on a 2-on-1 with Barkov faking the pass and firing it through the skates of Kuemper. Nice answer.
  • Panthers 4, Capitals 2 (13:04, 3rd): The Capitals broke their power play drought as Nicklas Backstrom scored from the spot Alex Ovechkin likes to camp out in.
  • Panthers 4, Capitals 3 (17:28, 3rd): Evgeny Kuznetsov deflected a shot from Oshie past Forsling and the Caps are back in this thing with the power play goal and their net empty.
  • Panthers 5, Capitals 3 (18:57, 3rd): Anton Lundell gets an empty net goal and Florida can breathe again.
  • Panthers 6, Capitals 3 (18:45, 3rd): A second empty net goal for the Panthers, this one for Sam Reinhart.

GR’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT

1. Sasha Barkov, Florida (game-winning goal)

2. T.J. Oshie, Washington (2 assists)

3. Colin White, Florida (goal)

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NASHVILLE PREDATORS

  • When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
  • Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville 
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Sun, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 2-0
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 21-12-6, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Anaheim at Florida, Monday, 1 p.m.

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