Capitals goaltending questions reemerge in Game 2 loss to Panthers


SUNRISE, Fla. — Game 2 for the Capitals was in a lot of ways an accumulation of mistakes, errors and poor play late. Eventually, the night gave way to the Panthers.

Washington surrendered two goals late in the first period and trailed by as much entering the second period. A Nicklas Backstrom power play goal cut the lead to one, but just 27 seconds later, the Panthers made the lead two once again. And once a four-minute power play for the Capitals was killed, the Panthers never looked back. 

The Capitals lost 5-1 on Thursday at FLA Live Arena in a game that completely swung in the Panthers' favor in the second period. Now, the questions about which goalie the Capitals will start in their next game have emerged once again.

“Actually we started off pretty well, I think,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “They got two late goals there in the first. We scored on the power play and they scored the shift after. That was kind of tough, actually, mentally. 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.”

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Vitek Vanecek, after a stellar Game 1 performance, struggled in Game 2 — though he was certainly not helped by a few bad bounces and defensive breakdowns in front of him. 

The Panthers’ first goal came off a deflection off Martin Fehervary as the puck bounced its way into the net to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Not two minutes later, a beautiful passing play was set up by Jonathan Huberdeau to push the lead to two. 

But after Backstrom made the game a one-goal deficit, Mason Marchment beat Vanecek five-hole 27 seconds later and it felt as if a little bit of air had been let out of the Capitals’ balloon. Florida added an Anton Lundell goal on a failed breakout which led to a two-on-none in front of Vanecek. His final goal surrendered came off a snap shot from Carter Verhaeghe that beat Vanecek clean. 

That ended Vanecek’s night after five goals allowed on 14 shots. The Capitals turned to Ilya Samsonov for the third period in a 5-1 game.

“I thought he came in and played well because I don't think we played very well in the third at all,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “So I thought he came in and made some saves. They had a lot of shots from outside, he got to feel the puck, so that was good. But had to make a couple of saves as well.”

Now, questions are once again relevant about the Capitals’ goaltending situation. 

Game 3 will be played Saturday afternoon, but Samsonov’s 17-save performance in the third period likely earned him a hard look at being handed the starter’s job. 

Either way, the Capitals will be forced to make a difficult decision entering Saturday: Turn to Samsonov for the start after a strong third period in Game 2, or roll with Vanecek, who played very well in Game 1, but surrendered five goals on 19 shots in Game 3. 

But no matter who is in net, the Capitals know they have to play better in front of their goaltender.