- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

To put into perspective how bad the Washington Capitals were Sunday afternoon, the last time the Caps lost at home by four goals, their coach was fired.

One day after a road win against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Caps were crushed 6-2 by the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center - their worst home loss since a 5-1 beating by Atlanta the night before Bruce Boudreau became coach in November 2007.

“There are no excuses for what we did today,” right wing Matt Bradley said. “Every guy was not prepared, and we didn’t play our game at all. It’s disappointing when you have such a good game against Boston [on Saturday] and come back with an effort like this. We’re all individually going to have to look at ourselves and how we prepared and why we weren’t ready for the game.”

Alexander Semin helped the Caps to a fast start in the first period, but things got really bad really quickly for Washington after that. Semin scored his 25th of the season on a slap pass from Brooks Laich 86 seconds into the game.

Then came a flurry by Florida - the Panthers potted four goals in a little less than 13 minutes, needing just seven shots on net. The Panthers earned three power plays in that stretch and converted each.

“We stunk,” Boudreau said. “We got beat to every loose puck. It seemed like they had the puck on the power play the whole two minutes every time in our zone. I can’t sugarcoat, and I can’t find excuses for it. We weren’t very good.”

Stephen Weiss made it 1-1 when he put in a rebound at 3:53, 13 seconds after Caps goalie Jose Theodore atoned for throwing his stick at the puck by stopping the ensuing penalty shot by David Booth. Bryan McCabe gave the Panthers the lead at 6:59 with a shot through traffic from the right point.

Weiss’ shot from the right wing missed the net, but Jay Bouwmeester banged home the ricochet off the end boards from the left circle at 14:19. Former Caps forward Richard Zednik finished the onslaught with a one-timer during a three-on-two at 16:16.

Theodore did not return after the first intermission, having yielded four goals on 17 shots. He was replaced by rookie Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 14 of 16 shots in this third NHL contest.

“Not at all,” Boudreau said when asked whether he was unhappy with his starting goalie’s play. “If it wasn’t for Jose, it would have been [4-1] before the penalty shot. I pulled him to protect him with the way we were going.

“Everybody seems to like to rain on him in the first place. He keeps us in the first five minutes of the game, and he makes some great saves. … We weren’t there to protect him, so I had to protect him myself.”

If the sellout crowd was looking for a more inspired effort in the second period from the home team, the patrons were probably disappointed. Bradley fought Florida’s Nick Tarnasky early in the period, but it didn’t provide much of a boost.

The Caps were outshot 7-5 in the period, and light-scoring Panthers defenseman Jassen Cullimore pushed his team’s lead to 5-1 with his second goal of the season at 10:24. At the long end of a prolonged offensive possession for the Panthers, Cullimore fired a shot that appeared to hit Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz on the way in.

Michael Frolik added another goal for Florida in the final period, and Alex Ovechkin registered his league-leading 46th goal in the game’s final minute. By then, the arena was half-empty, and the Caps, one of the best teams on home ice this season, were facing their third loss in their last five games at Verizon Center.

Boudreau wasn’t buying the idea of a letdown after Saturday’s win in Boston. The Panthers also played that day and were blown out 7-2 by the New Jersey Devils.

“[The Panthers] were in New Jersey, and they lost an emotional game,” Boudreau said. “They are on the end of a six-day road trip. So I don’t buy [it was a letdown]. We are just looking for excuses. I don’t even buy the whole emotional thing. It’s not like we’re asking them to get up for six games in seven nights and play at that tempo. It’s two games in two days, and we didn’t meet the challenge. It’s discouraging.”

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