Vanecek up to Panthers’ challenge in Game 1


SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Capitals and goalie Vitek Vanecek were on the plane down to Florida when coach Peter Laviolette told him he’d be the Game 1 starter in Washington’s net. 

The task in front of Vanecek certainly wasn’t an easy one, considering it was his first road Stanley Cup playoff start against the NHL’s best offensive team.

But through one game of the Capitals’ first-round series against the Florida Panthers, he’s got a win against the NHL’s best, and most potent, offensive team under his belt. And now, at least for the time being, the net is unquestionably his after the Capitals’ 4-2 win at FLA Live Arena

“He said that it was a pretty good season for me,” Vanecek said of the conversation between he and Laviolette. “And he want me to start. And he want me to be better like [Florida goalie Sergei] Bobrovsky.”

Vanecek stopped 30 of the 32 shots that were sent his way and he made a handful of timely saves to keep the Capitals within a goal and later, to secure the win. 

Sam Bennett opened the scoring for Florida with a wrist shot in the slot to tie the game at one, but aside from that goal, there wasn't much to pick apart about Vanecek's night. 

“He was really good,” Laviolette said. “They caught one off the post and then another one, there’s things that we could’ve done better in front of him with regard to that. But I thought he played a solid game.”


In aid of their goalie, who was making just his second-ever postseason start, the Capitals were stellar in front of him. They allowed 25 five-on-five shots and just seven high-danger chances in almost 48 minutes of full-strength action. Both figures were lower than what the Panthers averaged in the regular season. 

“First game is always important because you’re feeling really good after that,” Vanecek said. “The guys was buzzing today, the defense was tight and the offense was really good. I hope it will go the same way for the next game.”

That next game will be Thursday, where the Capitals will look to take a commanding two-game lead in the series. On Thursday, though, the questions surrounding the Capitals and its netminder will be far quieter than they were entering Game 1. 

Laviolette didn’t announce his starter until after the team’s optional skate Tuesday morning, and there appeared to be legitimate debate over whether or not the Capitals would turn to Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov. 

But as the game wore on, the Panthers couldn’t muster anything more after Claude Giroux’s goal 43 seconds into the second period. The Capitals then ended the game with three third-period goals to put the game away. 

“He did a great job,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “He save when he have to save. That second goal, that was on me when the rebound. Sometimes it’s going to happen. Overall, I think he play great job.”

For Game 2 when the Capitals look to take a 2-0 series lead, they’ll have Vanecek between the pipes once again. 

“Honestly, it was a really good feeling,” Vanecek said. “The fans was really load and that pumped me up. I was feeling great in the game. My head was in the game.”

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