Considering how the Washington Capitals limped into the postseason — losing five of their final six regular season games — reasonable hockey fans had doubts about the team ability to magically flip a switch come playoff time.
Watching the team’s defensive struggles down the stretch and erratic goaltending all season long made even the most optimistic of individuals admit that this likely wasn’t Washington’s year.
Naturally, the Caps welcomed the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers to town with an emphatic 6-1 victory to take a two-games-to-one series lead in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
During the regular season, the high-flying Panthers scored an impressive 340 goals while allowing just 246 goals against. Through three playoff game though, Florida is having a tougher time generating consistent scoring chances thanks to Washington’s improved play in the neutral zone. By getting back quickly and limiting odd-man rushes, the Caps are doing to the Panthers what stymied Alex Ovechkin and the Young Guns in their early run-and-gun days.
Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov, who sat out the first five periods of the series, started Game 3 and, much like he’s done throughout his 39 starts this season, immediately allowed a soft goal in the opening minutes of this matchup. Fortunately for the home team, the young netminder settled down afterwards and finished the night with 29 saves. With Samsonov having one of his strongest showings in recent history, all four lines in front of him played with a confidence and ease that hasn’t been seen all that often this season. Add in two power play goals and a perfect night for the penalty killing unit and this was the rare home playoff game that didn’t induce a panic attack for Caps fans.