SUNRISE — The largest crowd in years poured into the FLA Live Arena on Tuesday night hoping to see their Florida Panthers do something special as the Stanley Cup Playoffs finally arrived.
They left disappointed.
The Panthers, who recently wrapped up the best regular season in their history, lost yet another playoff opener — this time 4-2 to the Washington Capitals.
Florida has not won a Game 1 of the playoffs since beating the New York Rangers at Miami Arena in 1997.
Washington now leads the best-of-7 opening-round series 1-0.
Game 2 is Thursday night.
”I would like to think we’re going to learn a valuable lesson from this,” Aaron Ekblad said afterward. “We’re going to try and do something a little different with the lead in the third.’
The Capitals were thought to try and clog up the high-flying Panthers with some physical play — but it was Florida bringing the hits early.
Tom Wilson, the Washington aggressor who gave the Caps a 1-0 lead, left the game after just three shifts with an undisclosed injury after being hit in the corner.
Wilson came out for a quick spin on the ice during a second period timeout but headed back into the room.
Prior to that, Wilson cashed in on an extended power play, slamming home a big rebound from an Anthony Mantha shot at 3:48 of the first.
Radko Gudas took the first penalty on a high-stick with MacKenzie Weegar following him into the box with a delay of game. Washington had 1:01 of 5-on-3 time but did not score until the Weegar penalty expired.
Florida can thank Sergei Bobrovsky for keeping them in this game, at least early.
Panthers fans were hoping ‘Big Game Bob’ would show up for the postseason — and he certainly did on Tuesday.
Bobrovsky was absolutely fantastic in net and kept a persistent Capitals team off the board.
By the time Sam Bennett scored on a nice shot sliding into the slot to tie the score with 2:05 left in the first, Washington was outshooting Florida 16-8.
The Panthers are not used to being outshot in games, but that’s what happened here for two periods.
Alas, they went into the third leading 2-1 after Claude Giroux banged in a nice rebound off a Brandon Montour shot 43 ticks into the second.
The Panthers had a number of prime scoring chances following the Giroux goal, but Washington starter Vitek Vanecek was solid in what was his second playoff start.
Last season, Vanecek started the Capitals’ playoff opener but was injured in the first game and did not return.
He was strong in the third as well — and helped Washington pull off the upset.
Midway through the third, Washington tied it up when Alex Ovechkin took Weegar off the puck and got it to Evgeny Kuznetsov.
With 9:23 left, T.J. Oshie gave the Capitals the lead for good as Washington got an empty net goal late.
”I thought we played a pretty good game up until the third,” Bennett said. “They had a good push and we didn’t have enough of a pushback.”
The final two goals with Bobrovsky in the net were definitely not his fault as Weegar turned it over on one and Florida broke down defensively on the other.
Bobrovsky is expected to be back in net on Thursday.
— Florida’s crowd on Tuesday: 19,678.
GR’S THREE STARS OF GAME 1
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington
2. T.J. Oshie, Washington
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
FLORIDA PANTHERS V. WASHINGTON CAPITALS (Caps lead 1-0)
- Game 2: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TBS
- Radio: WQAM 560 (flagship); 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: Washington at Florida, Thursday, 7:30 (TBS/BSF); Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, May 9, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5*: Washington at Florida, May 11; Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary