WASHINGTON — The outlook was bleak for the Capitals’ power play through two periods Thursday night. They had three opportunities with the man advantage and failed to register even a shot across six minutes of play.
But it was ultimately the power play giving the Capitals life as they came just short of completing the comeback in a 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers that ended on a pair of empty netters. Washington had been searching for any kind of momentum with Alex Ovechkin away from the team following the death of his father. Heading into the final period, the Capitals had gone scoreless on each of their last 12 power-play chances.
They trailed 4-1 when Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour was whistled with 7:39 to play for holding T.J. Oshie, who was doing all he could to provide a spark with aggressive playmaking at the front of the net.
“What are we waiting for? Yeah, I said it after the second period, T.J., I loved it,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “It’s great. We’re in playoff mode here. So more of that. Give me some more of that. And it was good that he got in there. He’s in the front. He’s in the paint. He’s hunting for a goal and trying to get dirty and with it comes a scrum. It’s great.”
With the left-shot Nicklas Backstrom playing along the half wall on the left side, the position normally manned by the right-shot Ovechkin, defenseman Erik Gustafsson set him up with some open space to work with and he fired a shot through the legs of Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Each of Backstrom’s last three goals have been on the power play, a welcome sign for a Capitals team searching for more production with the man advantage.
“We got some shots and some chances and nice to get two,” center Dylan Strome said. “I think it was the first time with that unit so first time with Backy on the left side there. Take us two power plays to get going but we kind of figured it out and got lots of chances and really got us back in the game.”
After Oshie drew a second penalty — this time a cross-checking call on defenseman Marc Staal — Laviolette made a big gamble by pulling goaltender Darcy Kuemper to create a six-on-four. The Capitals applied enough pressure up front to set up center Evgeny Kuznetsov for the score.
While it didn’t result in a Capitals win, a breakthrough on special teams that carries over into Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes and beyond would prove much more critical to their chances of fighting for a playoff spot down the stretch than the result of one game.
“Obviously at this point in the season teams are closing in on us or passing us so it’s no time to panic. I think we know what it takes to be successful,” Strome said. “I think we just haven’t played that way in a couple games here. So, gotta get back to that and come together as a team and really figure out a way to get these points.”