SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — T.J. Oshie scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period, Vitek Vanecek stopped 30 shots and the Washington Capitals rallied past the top-seeded Florida Panthers 4-2 in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series Tuesday night.
Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller also scored for Washington, which trailed 2-1 going into the third period. Teams had been 0-39-1 against Florida in the regular season when trailing after 40 minutes, 0-22-0 when doing so on the Panthers’ home ice.
The Capitals must have ignored those numbers. Kuznetsov tied the game after a Florida turnover with 11:46 left, then Oshie got behind the defense and tapped a pass by Sergei Bobrovsky for what became the winner 2:23 later.
Eller wrapped it up with an empty-netter with 49 seconds left.
Claude Giroux and Sam Bennett scored for Florida, which has not won the opening game of a postseason series since 1997. Bobrovsky stopped 34 shots for the Panthers, the Presidents’ Trophy winners after an NHL-best 122 points in the regular season — and saw the home-ice advantage slip away in their playoff opener.
Game 2 is Thursday, back in Florida.
The Panthers argued for an icing call that didn’t come on the play where the game got tied. MacKenzie Weegar lost the puck after bouncing into Capitals star Alex Ovechkin near center ice, went down, and Kuznetsov skated in alone on Bobrovsky. He beat him to the stick side, tying the game 2-2 with 11:46 left.
Oshie’s go-ahead goal came not long afterward, and Florida never got the equalizer.
The Panthers had 340 goals in the regular season and were the NHL’s highest-scoring team since Pittsburgh in 1995-96 — which, perhaps coincidentally, was the last (and only) season in which Florida has won a playoff series. The Panthers went to the Stanley Cup final that season, haven’t gotten past Round 1 since, and the high-octane offense was largely silenced in Game 1.
The Panthers found themselves on the penalty kill just 49 seconds into the game after Radko Gudas got called for high-sticking, and things worsened when Weegar was hit with a delay of game call to give Washington 1:01 of 5-on-3 hockey.
The two-man disadvantage was killed off. And Florida was one second away from escaping the whole thing unscathed, before Wilson scored at 3:47 to give Washington a 1-0 lead.
But Wilson left the game not long afterward. He returned to the ice during a stoppage in play in the second period, skated a bit as if to test something, then returned to the locker room. There was no immediate word on the injury or its extent.
Bennett tied the game late in the first, Giroux made it 2-1 in the second, but the Panthers were blanked the rest of the way.
Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem was among those in the crowd. … Strange scene midway through the second, when Florida’s Mason Marchment was sent to the penalty box, then waved out when officials (correctly) changed their call to a penalty on Washington’s Martin Fehervary. … The penalty on Gudas at 0:49 of the first was the third-fastest opening penalty Florida had committed this season. Jonathan Huberdeau was called for roughing 20 seconds into a game on March 24, Gustav Forsling for hooking 25 seconds into a game on Nov. 27.
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