Caps know well the pressure Panthers face as best team in NHL


The Florida Panthers came away with the Presidents’ Trophy as the best team this season in the NHL. However, like plenty of top squads before them, they’re discovering the unique challenges of replicating their regular-season success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

After a convincing 6-1 victory in Game 3 by the Washington Capitals to take a 2-1 series lead, the Panthers have to head back to the drawing board for Game 4 to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole. 

Panthers left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau believes that the team needs to stick to its game plan but also understands they need to be better despite the nerves that come with being heavy favorites in the series.

“We just have to stick to our game plan. We’re a bit nervous … You’ve just got to focus on yourself,” Huberdeau said postgame. “Everyone has to get one (goal). That’s what we’ve said in the room. We’re a way better team. I think we’re going to come out in Game 4, be a better team.”

One aspect of their game that Florida must improve to avoid heading back home down 3-1 for Game 5 scheduled for Wednesday night is their power play, which sees them on a cold streak going 0-9 thus far this series. 

“We’ve got to start scoring some goals,” Huberdeau said. The 28-year-old added that it is “unacceptable. … There’s no excuses. We’ve just got to execute and score some goals” on their man-advantage opportunities.


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If there’s any team that might understand what the Panthers are currently feeling its their opponent in this series. Since 2010, the Capitals have won the Presidents’ Trophy on three occasions but failed to translate that regular-season success to the postseason. 

T.J. Oshie was on the team that won the regular-season award in 2016 and 2017 and understands what the players in the Florida dressing room are going through right now in this series. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy back-to-back, the rival Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Capitals on two straight occasions in the second round in crushing losses.

It happened in six games in 2016 when Washington was 16 points better than the Penguins in the regular season. It was a seven-game series in 2017 when the Caps led the league with 118 points but had to face the 111-point Penguins in the second round again.  

“I can’t speak to how they’re feeling right now. I do know when we had - it might have been 2017 maybe? When we were way out in front. I’m not sure which one of my first two years it was there,” Oshie said. “I do know when we stepped into playoff hockey after getting so far ahead, us at that time slowed down a little bit before playoffs. And then we ran into Pittsburgh, and they were playing pretty good hockey. So I can’t speak to [the Panthers], but when playoffs start it’s a clean slate. Your identity is your identity from one team to the next, but everyone is starting at zero.”

Knowing what Florida is going through can play into the Capitals’ favor. One more win in Game 4 would give Washington a stranglehold on the series, push the Panthers to the brink and ratchet up that pressure to the highest level.

It's a feeling that eight current Capitals (Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson) know all too well.  

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