Defensivemen Mike Green scored two goals to lead the Capitals to a 3-1 win over the visiting Panthers during a NHL game at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC on February 7. 2009. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box File Photo
Washington, D.C. — The Washington Capitals have officially given their fans notice: whatever you do during the intermission, make sure your butt is in your seat or on your couch when the period begins and ends.
Eric Fehr netted a goal 33 seconds into the first period, Mike Green scored twice, 43 seconds in and with 1:13 left in the third period, and the Caps survived a five-minute penalty kill at the end of the game to beat their division rivals, the Florida Panthers, 3-1 Saturday night at the Verizon Center.
The win was crucial for the Caps, who entered the game a dozen points ahead of Florida in the Southeast division standings, having played two more games. A year ago Washington found itself in the same situation, staring up the standings at the Carolina Hurricanes, and so understood the importance of what could have easily been considered a meaningless mid-season game.
“Last time we were looking up this far and we didn’t think it could be done and obviously it can be done,” said center David Steckel, who earned an assist on Fehr’s goal. He added, “when you play a team five times including tonight you want to make a statement especially after they beat you. You don’t want to give any teams any reasons to think they can beat you.”
Fehr’s quick strike was the second time in as many games the Caps scored within the first minute of the game. In their previous game, Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings, Washington eventually lost 5-4, a result the Caps made sure did not repeat.
“Every time you start the game you wish you could start it with a goal. We wanted to provide energy. It’s a Saturday night in our barn…I think we did that tonight.” Unlike against Los Angeles, Steckel added, the Caps were able to follow the early goal with a strong effort the rest of the game.
For a few minutes in the first, however, the Caps looked to be repeating Thursday’s surprise loss. On a four-minute power play, Green turned the puck over at the offensive zone blue line and was forced to trip Radek Dvorak to prevent a goal, earning a penalty in the process.
With Green in the box Washington was helpless to halt Florida’s cycle game behind Jose Theodore’s net, and Keith Ballard tied the game for Florida with a change-up slapshot that beat Theodore high on the right side.
Washington responded to the goal with renewed vigor, and dominated nearly all of the remainder of the game. The Caps peppered Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun with 39 shots, and had another 15 blocked, while the Panthers only managed to get 21 on Theodore.
Eventually the Washington pressure induced Florida into taking obstruction penalties, and at the end of a power play that spanned the second and third periods, Green found the top corner for his 18th goal of the season.
Sneaking down on Florida’s back door, as he often does, Green found himself the recipient of a feed from Alexander Ovechkin. Said Green: “I saw the [Florida defenseman] go down so I knew I had to get it up, and there was a screen [so] I shot it far side” and found a sliver of net between Vokoun’s right shoulder and the crossbar not much larger than the puck itself.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau had mythical praise for Green after the game, saying, “Every game everything he’s touching is turning to gold and I hope it never ends.”
While Boudreau hopes Green’s hot streak never ends, certainly the coach, players and fans thought a five-minute penalty kill at the end of the game would never end. With Sergei Fedorov already in the penalty box, defenseman Shaone Morrisonn earned a five-minute major and game misconduct with 5:01 left in the period for checking Cory Stillman into the boards from behind.
The major meant that Florida would have a 5-on-3 for 1:05, and could score at will for the remaining quarter of the period and remain a man up. Boudreau turned to his penalty kill specialists -- Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Tom Poti, and Jeff Schultz - to protect the Caps tenuous one-goal lead, and the team delivered.
Even though Florida was up two men for 1:05 and one man for the remaining 3:55 to end the game, the Panthers only managed one shot on net during the extended power play. The Caps blocked seven shots during the sequence, which Green credited not only for the win but for restoring Washington’s confidence.
“Our forwards did a great job blocking shots, that’s what it takes to win games,” said Green, adding “Tonight we really showed our character how we can bounce back….we have to give a lot of credit to our PK tonight, that’s what won us the game.”
Green earned several minutes of penalty kill time as well, and with just over a minute left he corralled a loose puck deep in the defensive zone and fired the puck the length of the ice into an empty net vacated by Vokoun to give Florida an extra attacker.
Green’s second goal was his 19th of the season, giving him one more goal through 41 games than he scored all of 2007-2008, when he led the league in goals for a defenseman. The high-flying defenseman has found the back of the net in six straight games, a team record, and is first in the NHL in goals and points by a defenseman and second in power play goals by any player.
-Saturday’s game was the second of six meetings between Washington and Florida. The Caps’ remaining schedule is loaded with divisional opponents, with 15 of the remaining 28 games against other teams from the Southeast.
-Fehr’s goal was his fifth point in five games, and sixth goal of the season. He has already surpassed his career high for goals, assists and points in a season.
-With 20 saves on 21 shots, Jose Theodore raised his save percentage to .900, the first time he met or surpassed that benchmark this season. He also reached 20 wins on the season for the sixth time in his career.