CAPS 2, PANTHERS 1
Peter Bondra scored the first and last goals for the Washington Capitals last night and that was all the Caps needed barely.
For the second night in a row, Washington played a down-and-out team and had to fight to the very finish to come away with a win. Last night it was 2-1 over the Florida Panthers, leaving the Caps three points ahead of Carolina in the battle for the Southeast Division lead.
The goals were the 25th and 26th of the season for Bondra. The second also was his 56th game-winner as a Cap, bettering the club record he set Tuesday night in Tampa. Every goal he scores now either betters a record or pushes his totals closer to one.
“It was a hard-working game on both sides,” Bondra said. “Olie [Kolzig] made some pretty good saves, we had a little advantage on special teams, we killed penalties [all three] and we scored a goal.”
The power-play goal was Bondra’s in the opening minute of the game, giving him a dozen for the season. His two goals give him 21 in his career against Florida, tying Eric Lindros for the most scored against the Panthers by an individual.
“I look once in a while at the stats,” Bondra said when asked about climbing career statistical ladders, “but I’m not really trying to finish my career here anytime soon, so I don’t worry about this. I will worry when I play my last game. Then I will look at stats maybe.”
His game-winner last night came at 8:14 of the third after Andrei Nikolishin unloaded a heavy shot that goalie Roberto Luongo deflected with his pads. It came out to Bondra who, despite wearing a defender like a sweater, twisted and twirled and deposited the puck in the short side.
Florida, so short for manpower that the team dressed eight defenseman instead of the normal six, was unable to get the equalizer, nor were the Caps able to extend their lead.
“A lot of those guys are probably playing for jobs right now,” said Kolzig, who turned aside 31 of 32 shots. “Anytime a team is down as far as they are in the standings, you have to be real careful of your job. There’s no pressure on them, so they can play a little more loosey-goosey. We were tired obviously from the travel last night, but I thought we did a great job. It was one of those games that could have gone either way.”
That Washington had opportunities to do something against this Florida team was readily apparent but the Caps did not respond with goals and allowed the Panthers to take the initiative away. For instance, in the last six minutes of the second period, Washington had two full power plays and a quarter of another, a situation where on home ice the Caps are all but unbeatable (ranked first at home; Florida’s penalty-killing is 13th on the road). But Washington was not only kept off the board, the Panthers outshot them 4-1.
The Caps took the lead just 59 seconds after the game started, just 28 seconds after the first penalty was called. Viktor Kozlov was nailed for tripping Ulf Dahlen and Bondra uncorked a slap shot from inside the right circle, his 25th of the season and 12th on the power play. Center Adam Oates got the second assist, the 200th helper of his Caps career.
Florida tied the game halfway through the second period with both teams playing four to a side. It was a scrambly play, both teams trying to gain control, when Kolzig let a rebound hang out in front where he had no defense. Mike Sillinger lifted it over the prone goalie to knot the game.
Before Tuesday night, Bondra had been tied with retired right wing Mike Gartner for game-winning goals as a Cap, but even so Bondra needed 38 fewer games than Gartner to set the mark.
Bondra is first in the club’s record book in shorthanded goals (27), first in hat tricks with 15, second to Gartner in goals (397-363), second by nine to Gartner’s 98 power play goals, second in career plus-minus (plus-97, 20 behind Rod Langway), second in points (629, 166 behind Gartner) and seventh in games played (721, five behind Langway).