Monday, January 9, 2006

The Washington Capitals scored in a flurry, fought furiously and finally relented in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers yesterday at MCI Center.

Nathan Horton and the ageless Joe Nieuwendyk scored for the Panthers in the shootout, while Brooks Laich notched the only shootout score for the Caps.

Washington defenseman Jamie Heward and center Dainius Zubrus scored in the first four minutes on Florida goalie Roberto Luongo for a 2-0 Caps lead. Heward’s goal came just 19 second into the game.

Then Caps right wing Matt Bradley and Panthers defenseman Steve Montador fought at the 4:07 mark, and Bradley took the worst of it. A team spokesman only said that he suffered an “upper body” injury, but it’s believed the injury does not involve his hands.

The Bradley injury broke up arguably the team’s best line, forcing coach Glen Hanlon to rotate six forwards to fill spots usually occupied by nine while trying to keep the top line together.

“That line just sets the table for us,” Hanlon said of center Brian Sutherby, left wing Ben Clymer and Bradley. “They just seem to work and forecheck and do all the system things that need to be done. Once [the injury] happened, our lines were mixed and matched for the whole night. So we pretty much went with nine forwards, which is tough.”

It probably also resulted in the first Florida goal 17:25 into the first period.

The Caps were called for icing — probably unnecessary in itself under the circumstances — and a tired Washington line was stuck on the ice for an extra minute. So the Panthers constantly applied pressure, and Sean Hill scored.

“You’re not going to play against top world-class players and play in your own end for one minute and not either get a penalty or a goal against you,” Hanlon said.

Said Zubrus: “We had a couple times with the puck on our stick, and … there’s no one to blame. We all know the rules. Sure, we were a little bit tired, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. You got to get the puck out. It’s as simple as that.”

Florida scored twice in the second period on two power-play strikes by Olli Jokinen. Zubris tied the score at 3-3 with 7:17 left in the game when he ripped a shot into the short side from the right boards.

Notes — It was Florida’s fifth straight win over the Caps. The last three were by 3-2 margins. … Panthers shooters had been 0-for-8 in shootouts coming into yesterday. They are now 2-for-11. The Caps have connected 10 times in 31 tries. … The Caps are off today and play host to Chicago tomorrow. … Rookie left wing Alex Oveckin had two assists. … Left wing Jeff Friesen and center Jeff Halpern, both with groin problems, were medical scratches. Center Andrew Cassels and defenseman Ivan Majesky were healthy scratches — the latter for the second straight game after a key miscue a week ago that led to a critical goal. … The Caps will hold their fourth annual Salute to Military Night on Jan. 19. The team will donate 6,000 tickets to military personnel for the game against St. Louis.

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