Capitals start strong, fall apart at the finish in 5-1 loss to Panthers

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Capitals start strong, fall apart at the finish in 5-1 loss to Panthers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

SUNRISE, Fla. — On aggregate, there’s a lot for the Capitals to like about the way the first two games were played in Florida.

They’ll leave the Sunshine State tied in the series and headed back home for two games on Saturday and Monday. A reasonable argument can be made that they've been the better team for the majority of the first two games, as they’ve proven they can hang with the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

The reality of the situation, though, is far more concerning for Washington.

The Capitals lost 5-1 on Thursday at FLA Live Arena in a game where they started exactly the way they’d finished Game 1, but collapsed down the stretch as the Panthers turned up the pressure to tie the best-of-seven at one game apiece. Now the series shifts to Washington with questions about the Capitals’ net once again and uncertainty about the health of forward Tom Wilson.

“I thought we did just about everything right and we're down 2-0,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “And then even the start of the second period, I thought that we were doing the right things and they get a third and a fourth and then I thought our game unraveled from there, the last probably seven minutes of the second period and then the third period we didn't do anything.”

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For the start the Capitals had, it felt like a goal was inevitable. The problem for them was it came from the Panthers.

Florida opened the scoring on an Aaron Ekblad goal, one that took a weird bounce off Martin Fehervary and skipped its way past Vitek Vanecek in net. Just 98 seconds later, a beautiful passing play from Jonathan Huberdeau set up Aleksander Barkov for a slam-dunk goal and a 2-0 Panthers lead.

The Capitals answered just 2:44 into the second period with a Nicklas Backstrom power play goal, but just 27 seconds after Backstrom cut the lead to one, Mason Marchment beat Vanecek five-hole to regain the two-goal lead.

“That was kind of tough, actually, mentally,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “After that, after the second period, in the third, they had a 5-1 lead. Nothing to say about that. That being said, we’ve got a tight series going back to Washington.”

The Capitals had a four-minute power play right after the Panthers' goal to make the game 3-1, but once the Panthers killed all four minutes off, the game swung in a hurry.

“I think we played solid first period,” Alex Ovechkin said. “How I said, one minute it is kind of hard minute. You give up two goals right away but the most important thing for us is we don’t give up. We try to bounce back in the game 2-1 and another mistake. How I say, (expletive) happens. Move on. 1-1, how I said, it is a good scenario for us.”

All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.