The Florida Panthers -- without their starting goaltender and playing for the second time in as many nights with more than 1,000 miles of travel in between -- were set up to fail Thursday.
That said, the Washington Capitals have struggled to bury inferior teams on many occasions this season -- but it wasn't a problem on this night. Playing without suspended star Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin had a four-point night in his return from injury as the Caps crushed the Panthers 6-2 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Semin missed the previous seven games with a wrist injury, but he put the Caps on the board first at 10:34. The shot was an indication of Semin's improved health: He snapped a wrister from inside the right circle just under the crossbar for his 10th goal of the season.
Tomas Fleischmann helped carry the offense when Ovechkin missed six games because of injury last month, but he hadn't scored since the two-time MVP returned. Ovechkin was back out of the lineup Thursday, and Fleischmann was back to his scoring ways. Fleischmann was at the end of a tic-tac-toe passing exhibition with Brendan Morrison and Eric Fehr, and his shot not only made it 2-0 but also chased Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen at 11:50 of the first.
Matt Bradley made it 3-0 with a shorthanded goal at 2:45 of the second. His long wrist shot beat Alexander Salak, a 22-year-old making only his second NHL appearance.
Semin connected with Nicklas Backstrom on a perfect no-look cross-crease for a five-on-three tally at 5:13 of the middle period to push the lead to 4-0.
The Caps were cruising to a relatively uneventful victory with their four-goal advantage before Panthers forward Mike Duco jumped Alexandre Giroux at center ice after he had made two clean checks in the Florida zone.
Duco was assessed 27 penalty minutes at 2:14 of the third period, and the Caps had a seven-minute power play. Morrison and Semin each scored with the man advantage.
Varlamov lost his shutout on goals by Stephen Weiss and Bryan Allen in the final 3:22, but he was otherwise stout when needed. The 21-year-old rookie made 26 saves and improved his record to 11-1-2 this season.