Capitals score three unanswered goals, upset Panthers in Game One after incredible defensive play by Alex Ovechkin

The Washington Capitals entered the third period down 2-1 to the Florida Panthers. The Panthers, who were the league’s best team in the regular season, are usually lights out protecting a lead in the final 20 minutes.

The Panthers were 39-0-1 when leading after two periods and 22-0-0 at home per Hockey Reference.

They are undefeated in that stat no longer. And Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is a huge part of the reason why.

With 11:46 remaining in the third period, Evgeny Kuznetsov tied the game up 2-2 via a breakaway goal which most definitely had 2018G6PGH vibes. Kuzy covered and beat Bobrovsky over the right path. Then he did The Bird to celebrate.

Ovechkin set the play up by poke-checking Panthers defender Mackenzie Weegar as he headed up ice.

Kuzy snatched up the puck and took care of the rest.

“I think the neutral zone is a really important zone,” Peter Laviolette said. “There’s times where we don’t play it so well and you let up too many chances. It’s like the gateway to your end or the gateway to the offensive zone. You gotta make sure you take care of it. [Ovi] was in position and structure, made a nice play, and we were able to get some jump behind it with another player.”

“That’s why he’s legend, right?” Kuznetsov said of Ovechkin.

The Capitals rode that wave of momentum with another goal two minutes and 23 seconds later. Nicklas Backstrom found TJ Oshie with a pass that had surgical-like precision to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

Lars Eller then sealed it with an empty-netter from way downtown.

The game was arguably the Capitals’ best defensive effort over a full 60 minutes since a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on April 18.

The Capitals held the dangerous Panthers to under 10 high danger chances (at all strengths) for only the fourteenth time this season. They also held the Panthers to two goals, which is notable. The Panthers scored 340 goals this season — 25 more than the next closest team (Toronto, 315). It broke a record for most goals by an NHL team in the salary-cap era.

“They have a good team, we know they’re going to have their push,” Kuznetsov said. “We just have to play our game and I really like the effort that we put today.”

Laviolette added, “We just felt like if we stuck to it, stuck with it, and played good defense, the offensive chances would keep coming, and eventually, we could crack them. They’re a good team, they got a lot of weapons and they come at you in a lot different ways. We were smart with puck decisions, smart in the offensive zone, thought we competed really hard in the defensive zone so there were some good things that we did defensively.”

Screenshot: NBC Sports Washington

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