Capitals lose Game 6 to Panthers in OT, end fourth straight season with first-round playoff exit

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. 

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 T.J. Oshie’s goal with 1:03 remaining kept the Capitals alive. 

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 game for the Panthers after cleaning up a Patric Hornqvist shot that Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov saved but couldn’t corral. Samsonov got the nod for the Game 6 start 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 starting job over Vitek Vanecek, who started the first two games of the series, and Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday that he didn’t think Samsonov let the team down in Game 5.

Florida followed Lomberg’s goal with multiple good chances to score in the second, as Hornqvist rang a shot off the crossbar midway through the period and the Panthers then failed to score with the man advantage — their 18th straight empty power play to open the series.

Like the second period when the Capitals came out strong and scored early, Nicklas 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 Florida’s Game 6 victory, 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 Giroux’s wrister. 

Barkov then put the Panthers up 3-2 with 5:43 remaining — a goal that came just 22 seconds after Dowd nearly scored his second of the game by ricocheting 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. 

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 Laviolette had pulled Samsonov about a minute earlier. Oshie, who scored six goals in the series, kept his head in the crease to tap the bouncing puck into the net and send the game to overtime.

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.

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