Capitals defeat Panthers 6-1 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ilya Samsonov bounced back after giving up an early goal, and the Washington Capitals rallied Saturday to show they can hold their own against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers.

Samsonov made 29 saves, Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal and assisted on another and the Capitals defeated the Panthers 6-1 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series. Chants of “Sammy! Sammy! gave way to “Ovi! ovi! in the third time of the resounding victory.

Game 4 is Monday in Washington.

TJ Oshie deflected Ovechkin’s shot for a power-play goal, and Marcus Johansson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Garnet Hathaway also scored for the Capitals, who shook off a 5-1 Game 2 loss and an early deficit in Game 3 behind the play of their new starting goalie and a stingy effort that stymied the NHL’s best regular-season offense.

Samsonov was given the go-ahead to replace Vitek Vanecek at net after stopping all 17 shots in relief on Thursday. He got off to a rocky start, conceding a goal to league MVP candidate Jonathan Huberdeau in less than three minutes, then stopped every shot he saw the rest of the way.

With Samsonov as the backbone with even force and fewer hands, Washington’s penalty shot improved to 9-for-9 against Florida, which ranked fifth on the power play this season at just under 25%. The Panthers also led the league in scoring with more than four goals per game.

But this series against an opponent with more postseason hockey experience (seven players remain from Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship) has been another harsh lesson for the Panthers in how to win the playoffs. Misguided penalties from defender Mackenzie Weegar and Huberdeau paved the way for power play goals, a botched defensive assignment opened the door for Johansson and a corner turnover led to van Riemsdyk.

Similar mistakes cost Florida in the first round last year: a loss to Tampa Bay en route to the Lightning’s second straight title. Only this time, the Panthers were expected to make a deep run after compiling an NHL-best 122 points in 58 wins in 82 games.

If they don’t win three more in the next eight days, it will be another disappointment for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1996 and entered the postseason as one of the favorites to win the Cup.

The Capitals, seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference, improved to 4 of 12 on the power play of the series. Their victory guaranteed at least two more home playoff games this spring.

NOTES: John Carlson had an empty net goal with 4:20 remaining. … Ovechkin’s goal was his 72nd in the playoffs, tying him with Patrick Marleau and Esa Tikkanen for 14th on his career list. His 28 power play goals are tied for seventh. … Capitals right back Tom Wilson missed a second straight game with a lower-body injury. … Connor McMichael made his NHL playoff debut, replacing Brett Leason, who filled in for Wilson in Game 2 and skated just seven minutes.


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