Caps, Panthers meet in Game 3 with stars looking to shine

The Florida Panthers lacked focus in Game 1, while the Washington Capitals did not execute to their standards in Game 2.

The result: The squads are tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, with the scene shifting to Washington, D.C., on Saturday afternoon for Game 3.

A key issue for the Capitals was the absence of forward Tom Wilson in Game 2 due to a lower-body injury. His status for Saturday is undetermined.

The Capitals won the opener of the series 4-2 before losing 5-1 on Thursday and yet do not appear to truly have gotten on track. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, one of the most prolific scores in NHL history, has no goals with two assists in the two games.

Ovechkin has been active, however, with nine shots on goal and 10 hits.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, second on the Caps during the regular season with 78 points, has one goal and no assists in two games. John Carlson, third with 71 points, has no goals and one assist.

“The margins are small in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom said. “We have to be a little bit sharper. We have to take care of the puck. We have to execute better overall.”

Washington has a decision to make in goal. Vitek Vanecek got the Game 1 win, slowing down the highest-scoring team in the NHL. But in Game 2 on Thursday, Vanecek allowed five goals in two periods and was pulled.

Ilya Samsonov stopped all 17 shots in the third period, and it’s possible that Caps coach Peter Laviolette will start him on Saturday.

Laviolette didn’t address that subject directly, but he did say that he disliked how the Capitals finished Thursday’s game.

“I thought we did just about everything right in the first period and yet we trailed 2-0,” Laviolette said. “But then (the Panthers) got their third and fourth goals, and our game unraveled. In the third period, we didn’t do anything.”

The Capitals were actually a better team on the road this season (25-10-6) as opposed to home (19-16-6), a quirky side note as the series shifts to Washington.

The Panthers were dominating at home (34-7-0) and solid on the road (24-11-6), leading to the Presidents’ Cup as the NHL’s best team in the regular season.

Florida beats teams with its speed and depth. The Panthers have scored in bunches, and that was evident on Thursday as they broke open a close game with three straight second-period goals by Mason Marchment, Anton Lundell and Carter Verhaeghe. They also got early goals from Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov.

Similar to the slow playoff start for Ovechkin, Panthers star Jonathan Huberdeau has been held to no goals and just one assist in the series.

During the regular season, Huberdeau led the Panthers with 115 points. The next closest on the Panthers was Barkov with 88 points. Huberdeau also led the NHL with 85 assists.

Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette doesn’t appear worried about Huberdeau, with his focus on the team as a whole.

“A couple of nights ago (in the opener), it wasn’t a lack of effort,” Brunette said. “It was more the focus.

“(On Thursday), we grinded it out, and it will be a building block for our group.”

–Field Level Media

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