We have all seen this movie before. The Washington Capitals led the Florida Panthers, 2-1, late in the third period when, after back to back Capital penalties, the Panthers held a two man advantage.
The Capitals are a much better team then the Panthers, especially considering the fact that since the last time they played, Florida had revamped their hockey club, and was, at best, a glorified AHL hockey team. These games scare me. The Panthers, with their youth and speed completely outplayed and outhustled the Caps through the first two periods, yet the Caps emerged with the 2-1 lead. Tallies by Nicolas Backstrom and Boyd Gordon, gave the Caps the slight edge as once again, rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth kept them in the game, until John Erskine (tripping) and Dennis Wideman (slashing), gave Florida that near fatal 5 on 3.
When David Booth put the puck past Neuvirth to tie the game at 2, I looked at my son, and he took the words right out of my mouth…”here we go again.” For some reason, this team, this season, continues to play down to their level of competition, instead of stepping on the throats of the lesser teams, and doing the dirty work to put these teams away. I smelled it. My son smelled it. My Dad, who I text during the course of every game, smelled it. This had all the signs of another gut-wrenching Capitals loss. But Alexander Semin, would have none of it.
Following a missed opportunity by Florida on the first chance of the overtime period, Marcus Johansson, who missed most of the first period after taking a puck off the leg, fed Semin on a beautiful give and go, which “Alex the Second”, promptly put in the back of the net for the game winner. And it wast a HUGE game winner.
The win catapulted the Caps back into first place in the Southeast Division, after Tampa Bay lost, 4-2, on Saturday to Montreal. And that is huge because it immediately sets them as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, up from the #5 seed that they had held for the past few months. It also sets up a Southeast Division showdown with the Lightning on Monday night at 7:00 pm in Tampa. It’s as close to playoff hockey as the regular season gets.
This win tonight was extremely important, as now the Caps are in the driver’s seat for the Southeast crown, which includes home ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Also, with the Philadelphia Flyers losing in New York, 7-0, the win moves the Caps to within 4 points of the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s going to be a great ride over the course of the next month, and the Capitals, finally, seem to be hitting their stride.