SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers were not perfect in Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals but they were plenty good enough.
The Panthers ended up breaking out the offensive stick, evening their best-of-7 first-round series against the Capitals with a resounding 5-1 victory at FLA Live Arena.
Florida and Washington are tied at 1 with the series shifting to Washington for the next two meetings.
Regardless of what happens in The District, the Panthers and Capitals will return to Sunrise on Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Florida was outshot by the Capitals for two periods and at times — especially early — struggled to sustain pressure in the offensive zone.
The Panthers appeared to be frustrated in the first, especially after creating some chances on the power play but still being held to just two shots on goal.
Florida finally broke through with Aaron Ekblad scoring his first playoff goal by firing a shot off Washington defender Martin Fegervary and skipped past goalie Vitek Vanecek with 3:40 left in the period.
The Panthers were being outshot 9-4 at the time.
Moments later, Sasha Barkov gave the Panthers their first multi-goal lead of the series when he flashed to the front of the net and knocked in a clean feed from Jonathan Huberdeau on Florida’s fifth shot of the night.
”It’s nice to win and that is all we want to do,” Barkov said. “We didn’t play the right way in the first game but we kept building as this game went on. Bob kept us in the game, gave us a chance to win.’’
Washington got one of those goals back in the second, Nicklas Backstrom scoring on a tight power play shot from along the goal line.
That allowed Alex Ovechkin to give Sergei Bobrovsky a little grief — as he has the whole series — but Bob got the final laugh this night.
Florida ended up scoring three goals to close the second period, chasing Vanecek after he allowed five goals on 18 shots.
Mason Marchment gave the Panthers the momentum back, scoring less than 30 seconds after Backstrom’s goal.
Although Marchment got slapped with two minor penalties, Florida killed it off and was able to extend its lead later in the period as it blew things wide open.
Anton Lundell scored his first postseason point in his second NHL playoff game, playing a little tic-tac-toe with Sam Reinhart as the strolled toward the Capitals net with 4:36 remaining in the period.
Two minutes later, Carter Verhaeghe’s one-timer from deep in the slot beat Vanecek and, based on the look on Peter Laviolette’s face, he had seen enough.
”This is a good win for us, we’re back in the series,” Bobrovsky said. “It is fun hockey and it is fun to compete shoulder-to-shoulder with my teammates. This was a great game and we’re happy with the win.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF GAME 2
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS (TIED 1-1)
- Game 3: Saturday, 1 p.m.
- Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN
- Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS
- Regular season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: First meeting
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington 4, @Florida 2; Game 2: Florida 5, Washington 2; Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, Monday, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5: Washington at Florida, Wednesday (Time, TV TBA); Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary