The Panthers beat the Capitals in Game 4 in overtime to tie the series

The Panthers beat the Capitals in Game 4 in overtime to tie the series

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The Washington Capitals were exactly where they wanted to be on Monday night, holding a one-goal lead as the final minutes burned at Capital One Arena. But just when the Capitals were moments away from celebrating a triumphant series victory, the Florida Panthers came back strong.

Sam Reinhart found the equalizer late in the third period before Carter Verhaeghe netted the overtime winner in less than five minutes as the Panthers scored a 3-2 victory in Game 4 of the playoff series of the first round of the Eastern Conference, tying the back-and-forth game at two wins apiece. Washington, which was lucky enough to kick the Presidents’ Trophy winners down a 3-1 hole, now faces a best-of-three series against the NHL’s best team.

Yet as the series returns to Sunrise, Fla., for Game 5 on Wednesday night, the Capitals, the NHL’s best road team in the regular season, seemed unfazed. Washington already has a win at Sunrise — its stunning 4-2 in Game 1 set the tone for this series, though Florida found answers in a Game 2 blowout. Although the Panthers have the momentum — and Home ice advantage again – the Capitals remain confident, their veterans pushing the idea of ​​a calm, collected locker room despite Monday’s deflating loss.

“In the third period, everything was in our hands,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “…We’re going to be playing best-of-three right now. There is no panic.”

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Monday’s dagger was Verhaeghe’s second goal of the game: he picked up a big rebound from Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov, took advantage of the slot traffic and beat Samsonov over his left shoulder at 4:57. The Capitals disputed the goalie interference — Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau was in the slot with Washington center Lars Eller — but a quick review ended in favor of the Panthers.

“It’s going to be a long streak – we already know that,” Kuznetsov said.

Kuznetsov’s breakaway goal at 9:31 of the third period had given Washington a 2-1 lead and realistic hopes of taking control of the series. After TJ Oshie’s hard hit on forward Sam Bennett created a loose puck in the neutral zone that Alex Ovechkin shoveled at Kuznetsov, he waited for Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, then sent the puck to his body tense as the crowd erupted and Kuznetsov released his bird. cellular.

But Florida would not go quietly. With Bobrovsky fired for an extra forward – and shortly after Garnet Hathaway barely missed a long-range shot into the empty net – Reinhart collected a bouncing puck and got the slot equalizer with 2:04 left. To do. The puck beat Samsonov, hit the right post and went into play, leading to overtime.

Samsonov, making his second straight start, finished with 29 saves. He had a handful of timely saves, including one off Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov on an odd run right after Kuznetsov’s goal. Bobrovsky wasn’t as busy and finished with 14 saves.

The Panthers, who revamped their lines and defensive pairings, were hot on their heels after a handful of early unforced errors but eventually found their way. After a nasty 6-1 loss in game three, caretaker coach Andrew Brunette criticized his players’ intensity and lack of desperation, saying his team appeared to be playing “nervously”. In Game 4, Florida, which set a salary cap era record for regular season goals, looked set for a defensive affair.

After coming out of the first period with the score tied at 1, Washington had a chance to come out of the second period in the same position. The mid-period was filled with whistles. The Capitals failed to convert a power-play chance, then couldn’t capitalize on a five-on-three deficit. Between the two, Washington received three consecutive minor penalties. Defenseman Martin Fehervary was hit for two of them – once for hooking, then for a big stick.

The silver lining for Washington, which was outscored 12-4 during the period, was its shorthandedness. The unit has shined in this series, stopping all 13 power play opportunities for the Panthers. The Panthers went 0 for 4 in Game 4. The Capitals improved to 5 for 17 after converting Oshie in the first period.

Samsonov’s solid shorthanded play was noticeable. He made a few close-range saves in the second period, pulling more chants of “Sammy! Sammy! Sammy!” from the home crowd. They were another pat on the back for the Game 3 hero, when he made 29 saves in Washington’s blowout victory.

In Game 4, he looked calm and collected and nurtured by his team’s defensive play, but Florida’s late push was the difference.

“The second period wasn’t our best, but that’s why we have Sammy in goal – he gives us a fighting chance for this game,” Kuznetsov said.

Oshie opened the scoring with his third goal of the series at 7:15 from the first. On a power play, he jumped and deflected defenseman John Carlson’s point shot with his right skate, and the puck bounced past Bobrovsky. It was his second power-play deflection goal in as many games.

Verhaeghe tied the game at 1 at 14:08 on an odd run with defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Fehervary was the lone fullback; he handled Ekblad, who moved the puck to Verhaeghe. He was on his own and beat Samsonov with a bouncing puck.

Wilson missed a third straight game due to a lower-body injury he suffered early in the opener. The physical winger hasn’t skated with the team since. Her status for the remainder of the series is unclear; it remains listed as day to day. Rookie Connor McMichael once again took his place in the roster.

“Right now, it’s still day to day with him,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I understand that’s not the answer you want, but that’s actually where it’s at.”

The Capitals came close to picking up another win without him on Monday, but instead they’re back in South Florida with plenty of work to do.

“It’s going to be a tough long streak, so move on,” Ovechkin said. “Forget it; move on.”

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