|Recap: Capitals at Panthers by: Matt Witting October 24, 2001|
|The Capitals long, strange trip continued in Florida tonight and they managed to come away with two points from a game in which they led for a grand total of zero seconds. After the Caps overcame a two goal and a one goal deficit to force overtime, Peter Bondra scored his second OT game winner of the season a mere 45 seconds into the overtime period to snatch the victory away. Despite the relatively high score, the Caps played quite well and deserved the victory, although young goalie phenom Roberto Luongo almost kept them from it.
The first period started out extremely badly for the Caps. Barely one minute into the game the Panthers took advantage of a turnover to score. Novoseltsev took a shot from the blue line that Olie blocked, but he gave up a huge rebound. The two Caps defensemen tied up the same Florida player allowing Huselius, a rookie, to grab the loose puck and beat Kolzig. Almost immediately thereafter, Washington went a man short thanks to a high sticking call on Rob Zettler and the Panthers capitalized quickly. Jeff Halpern was unable to clear the zone allowing Ference to cycle the puck around the blueline to Victor Kozlov. He fired a long, unscreened slap shot that may have glanced of Ken Klee’s stick in front into the cage for a quick two goal Florida lead. For once, however, Washington was able to strike back, and they did it a mere thirty seconds after the Florida PP tally. Zubrus with control of the puck in the offensive zone slid a pass over to Andrei Nikolishin in the faceoff circle to Luongo’s right. Nikolishin, following Ron Wilson’s instructions to shoot more, lifted a wrister at Luongo. The puck glanced of the stick of a charging defender and knuckled over Luongo’s shoulder halving the Florida lead to 2-1. The Caps played solid defense after the first minute, killing the next three Florida power plays without incident, and were quite good in the offensive zone. Jagr and Gonchar had great chances but Roberto Luongo displayed the skills that have him touted as the best young goal tender around to stop them.
In the second period the Capitals began to assert themselves. They had difficulty in the first moving through the neutral zone, but were able to break down the Panthers’ defense in the second. Again Luongo came up big several times to keep the lead. Eventually, though, the Caps broke through. On the third Washington power play of the game the Caps were finally able to get their play set up. After that it was a familiar tune: Oates to Gonchar at the point, Gonchar to Bondra at the right faceoff circle, Bondra one-timer, power play goal. Tie game, 2-2 and the Caps were in business, or so it seemed. Despite a number of chances, the Caps were unable to take the lead. Then, on the power play again, the Panthers scored. Pavel Bure collected the puck along the goal line to Kolzig’s left. He made a nice move to the front of the net and was able to take three or four whacks at the puck, forcing it under the kneeling goalie. The puck dribbled across the line and stopped, clearing it by maybe an inch, and the Panthers had a 3-2 lead. Washington was awarded three more power plays, including a short 5 on 3, but were unable to crack Luongo going into the second intermission. Notable in the second was a stop that Kolzig made on Peter Worrell. Worrell left the penalty box and picked up a cleared puck at the Caps blue line, then strolled in alone. He tried his best Jimmy Dolan shake and bake, but Kolzig stayed with him all the way and stoned him on the door step.
Washington came out hard in the third and was rewarded at the 2:50 mark. Reekie started the break from the Caps defensive zone with a long pass to Dahlen just shy of center ice. Dahlen grabbed the puck, swiveled and lifted a perfect saucer pass ahead of Jaromir Jagr who sped into the offensive zone, splitting two Panthers. The pass somehow eluded the Florida sticks and Jagr cushioned it out of thin air as he sailed by, in alone on Luongo. Jaromir faked left, then right, then screeched to a halt in the crease while pulling the puck left again. Luongo bit big time on the fake and Jagr just pushed the puck in past the sprawling netminder who could only stare up at the scoreboard in disbelief. With the score tied, the Caps pushed for more but Luongo again stepped up and stopped their best shots. Olie was equally good on the other end, stopping two nifty deflections and a Pavel Bure partial breakaway. Despite dominating most of the third period, the Capitals found themselves headed for OT for the second straight night on the road.
Just like in Los Angeles a week earlier, the issue was settled very quickly. After half a minute of neutral zone play, Peter Bondra got the puck from Nikolishin and ended the contest. Bondra circled away from the Panthers zone, realized he was not being covered, turned back and sped in. He was picked up at the blue line, but blazed by the defenseman with his blinding speed. Bondra flashed to the top of the left faceoff circle and unleashed his slap shot, beating Luongo easily for the game winner at 0:45 of OT, his second goal of the game.
The Caps played an excellent game after the first three minutes, outscoring the Panthers 4-1 in the game’s last 57 minutes. They were smothering on defense, played a decent transition game and were able to get the offense cycling in the offensive zone. Recent call-up Mike Pettinger looked great in the first, but quieted down after that, while Jagr was quiet in the first but very active later on. Jagr, Dahlen and Halpern were the best line for the Caps, playing good defense and creating a number of scoring chances. Nikolishin scored for the fourth straight game and looked great with Bondra on his wing. Simon played a good game in the corners and had a couple of nifty passes to go with a great long-distance scoring chance. On defense, Brendan Witt was the star, followed closely by Sylvain Cote who is getting to be valuable at shutting down the rush along the boards. Kolzig had a good game, but probably should have stopped two of the Florida goals.
All in all a great performance in the second overtime game in two nights on the road. Hopefully the Caps can carry this excitement into the last game of the road trip Friday night in Atlanta.