Capitals 4, Panthers 3

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Forward Alex Ovechkin's hat trick fueled the Capitals in a 4-3 victory over the Panthers as they held off a third-period rally Saturday night in front of 16,886 at the BB&T Center.
Washington (19-17-2) continued its dominance of rival Florida (12-20-6) and also maintained its Southeast Division lead in the process with 10 games remaining.
The Capitals swept the season series, 4-0, for the first time since 2009-10. They have now won seven in a row, outscoring the Panthers 32-12 during that stretch.
Florida took the division last year, reaching the postseason for the first time in a decade.
Washington, meanwhile, snapped a four-year division title streak.
In a matchup with playoff implications, the Panthers -- winners of three consecutive games -- entered Saturday eight points behind the Capitals in the standings. Four points separated four teams. Washington improved to 11-3 against division opponents.
Since opening the season 2-8-1, the Capitals are 17-9-1, including 8-2-1 over the last 11 games to capture their first division lead.
Checked into the boards by defenseman Erik Gudbranson, forward Martin Erat needed help off the ice from a teammate and trainer with 5:23 remaining in the first.
Gudbranson received five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct, while Erat, acquired Wednesday in a trade with Nashville, remained out with a lower-body injury.
Ovechkin's NHL-leading 13th power-play goal handed the Capitals a 1-0 lead with 4:14 left in the first period.
Forward Nicklas Backstrom passed to forward Mike Ribeiro, who sent a cross from the side of the net to Ovechkin. He finished the one-timer for his 21st goal of the season.
Heading into the game, Washington led the league with a 24.2 percent power-play percentage. Florida held the worst penalty kill at 74.8 percent.
The Capitals extended the lead with a three-goal second period.
Just 43 seconds into the second, Washington capitalized on another power-play goal.
Forward Quinton Howden's hooking penalty with five seconds left in the first carried over after intermission. Defenseman Mike Green's slap shot, set up on a pass from Ovechkin, hit the left post and settled behind goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
Ribeiro tipped the puck in for his 12th of the season.
Less than two minutes later, Ovechkin scored for the second time of the night.
Following a feed from Backstrom, Ovechkin skated toward two defensemen --
momentarily losing the puck but quickly recovering it to the right of Filip Kuba -- before firing off a wrist shot that beat Markstrom's glove side. Forward Marcus Johansson also recorded an assist on the play.
Ovechkin collected the hat trick with his second power-play goal, on assists from Johansson and Backstrom at 14:22.
Backstrom currently rides a five-game point streak (1-9-10).
The Panthers answered with their own three-goal third period.
Forward Tomas Kopecky put the Panthers on the scoreboard 6:45 into the third period with his 14th goal of the season, a one-timer from former Capital Tomas Fleischmann. TJ Brennan also picked up an assist.
Fleischmann has eight points (3-5-8) in his last nine games.
Two minutes later, Peter Mueller's power-play goal -- his eighth goal of the season -- trimmed the deficit to 4-2. Shawn Matthias and Jonathan Huberdeau assisted the play.
Kopecky added a goal with 32.7 seconds to go with an extra skater on the ice.
NOTES: Panthers center Nick Bjugstad made his NHL debut. The 2010 19th overall pick, who spent the past three years at the University of Minnesota, became the seventh Florida player this season to debut. ... Center Scott Timmins was recalled from the AHL San Antonio Rampage. ... Capitals defenseman Tom Poti (back) missed his 10th game. Center Brooks Laich, who left late in Thursday's game with a lower-body injury, was also scratched. ... Left winger Jason Chimera played in his 700th NHL game. ... Up next, both teams finish the second half of back-to-backs on Sunday night. The Capitals remain in the Sunshine State against the Lightning, while the Panthers host the Senators.

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