This week has been all too familiar for the Washington Capitals.
It started with allowing a goal in the final minutes of regulation and eventually losing in overtime in Game 4. Then came Wednesday’s debacle that saw the veteran Capitals give up five unanswered goals to blow a 3-0 lead.
And on Friday, the host Capitals completed the terrible trifecta by blowing another lead — this one a 2-1 advantage in the third period — to fall 4-3 to the top-seeded Florida Panthers and lose the series 4-2. The loss also marks the fourth straight year that the Capitals’ season ends with a first-round playoff exit.
“The last three games have been in our hands at some point,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. “… We were unable to capitalize on all those opportunities. We weren’t able to shut the door.”
Carter Verhaeghe scored the game-winning goal in overtime — his second of the series after also ending Game 4 with an overtime score. Aleksander Barkov had given the Panthers a 3-2 lead in the third period, but Oshie’s goal with 1:03 remaining kept the Capitals alive.
All four Capitals players who spoke after the game — Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin — were in agreement that, in their minds, they should have won the series. But no one was as frank as Backstrom was.
“We basically gave the series to them,” Backstrom said.
The game started slowly, with neither team scoring in the first period. But the goals started to fall in the second, as Washington and Florida traded rebound goals less than three minutes apart.
Nic Dowd drew first blood by rebounding his own shot. Garnet Hathaway started the sequence from behind the net by finding Dowd, whose first shot hit the crossbar and bounced in the crease. The fourth-line center then dove for the puck and flicked it past Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for his first goal of the series.
Ryan Lomberg then tied the score for the high-flying Panthers, who led the NHL with 4.11 goals per game in the regular season, after cleaning up a Patric Hornqvist shot that Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov saved but couldn’t corral. Samsonov got the nod for Game 6 despite giving up five goals in the final two periods on Wednesday to squander the Capitals’ 3-0 lead. The 25-year-old Russian earned the job over Vitek Vanecek, who started the first two games of the series but was replaced by Samsonov in the middle of Game 2.
Like the second period when the Capitals came out strong and scored early, Backstrom scored just 1:37 into the third to put Washington up 2-1. Justin Schultz flicked a high wrister toward the net, and the 34-year-old Swede redirected the puck past Bobrovsky and into the top-right corner of the cage.
But Claude Giroux, who scored and had an assist in both Games 5 and 6, nullified Backstrom’s goal with one of his own seven minutes later. Aaron Ekblad found an uncovered Giroux, the former Flyers star who was traded to the Panthers at the deadline, streaking down the ice, and Samsonov wasn’t quick enough to stop his wrister.
Barkov then put Florida up 3-2 with 5:43 remaining — a goal that came just 22 seconds after Dowd nearly scored his second of the game when he ricocheted a shot off the crossbar. Barkov’s flick past Samsonov close to the crease was assisted by Giroux, who possessed the puck after a rebound and found a wide-open Barkov.
“In playoffs, the margin of error is so small. One bad bounce or one misread can change the whole momentum of a game,” Oshie said. “Things happen fast, and we just didn’t shut the door. There’s really no other way to put it.”
Oshie’s goal to send the game to overtime came after Florida gifted Washington a power play with 1:09 remaining, giving the Capitals a 6-on-4 because coach Peter Laviolette had pulled Samsonov about a minute earlier. Oshie, who scored six goals in the series, kept his head in the crease to send the bouncing puck into the net — and Capital One Arena into a frenzy.
“We just couldn’t get it done,” Laviolette said. “We had the lead 2-1, we kicked it up [and] had to fight back. It was a huge effort at the end of the third to tie it up. We couldn’t just close it out.”
Verhaeghe scored the game-winner just 2:46 into overtime, backhanding a shot into the back of the net to leave Samsonov lying on the ice in disbelief and Capitals fans stunned.
“It only takes one breakdown or one small miscue against a team like that, and it can end up in the back of your net,” Laviolette said.