SUNRISE, Fla. | Bruce Boudreau was simmering after the game Monday night about the lack of support his goaltender, Jose Theodore, received in an ugly loss at Atlanta.
Even he couldn’t have been prepared for what happened 24 hours later in the third period. The Washington Capitals didn’t just protect a lead in the final 20 minutes of a 3-0 victory at BankAtlantic Center - they didn’t allow the Florida Panthers to put a single shot on net.
“I’ve never been involved in a game where that has happened,” Boudreau said. “It was a great testament to our players and the commitment they made to winning. They proved they can do it when they want to do it.”
Brooks Laich, Viktor Kozlov and Mike Green scored for the Caps, who had to grind out their third win in fourth games to stay one point behind New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference.
It was the third time in franchise history the Caps didn’t yield a shot on net in a period. That it happened against a team that was losing and is fighting to make the playoffs made it even more impressive.
Not only did the Panthers not put a shot on net, but they also attempted only five in the period - four were blocked, and one missed the net.
“Last year we really tightened up defensively at this time, and lately we’ve been getting away from that,” Laich said. “I like when we win 2-1 or 2-0 games because that means we’re playing well structurally and we’re not giving other teams much offensively and making it a hard night for them.”
Theodore made 19 saves in the first 40 minutes, including a couple to erase some early breakdowns, but he didn’t have to exert much effort in the final period to collect his second shutout of the season and the 28th of his career.
“He’s been playing unbelievable, and he makes the big stops when they need to be made,” Green said. “There were a couple half-breakaways and two-on-ones there, and he made the great stops. That’s all we can ask of from our goalie.”
Laich broke a scoreless tie 5:46 into the second period with a short-handed tally. Defenseman John Erskine cleared the puck out of the Caps’ end, and Laich was there in the neutral zone to knock it down and start a one-on-one rush.
Laich momentarily lost control of the puck as he skated down the left wing, but he eventually corralled it and snapped a shot from inside the circle that caromed in off the far post for his 18th goal of the season. It was Laich’s first short-handed marker of the year and the team’s seventh (by six different players).
“I can’t say anything more than I’ve already said about him,” Boudreau said. “He’s just a solid professional.”
The Caps didn’t have a power play in the first two periods, but Florida’s Keith Ballard went to the box 22 seconds into the third. Shortly after the penalty expired, Kozlov gave Washington a 2-0 lead when he snapped a shot from the top of the left circle through a screen by Laich.
It was Kozlov’s first goal since Jan. 31 against Detroit - a span of 22 games, though he did not play in 10 of them because of a groin injury. Kozlov also had only two assists in the previous 10 games he had participated in.
It was another contest in which last season’s MVP, Alex Ovechkin, failed to make much of an impact. Ovechkin was shadowed by Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester on every even-strength shift, and he ended the night with only one quality scoring chance - a shot from the top of the circles that Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun nabbed with his glove.
Ovechkin hasn’t had a multigoal game since Feb. 15, the last time the Caps were here. He also hasn’t registered a plus rating since Feb. 18 in Montreal and now has fallen three points shy of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for second place in the NHL scoring race and 13 behind the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin.
“He might have been smothered a little - Jay’s always been good on Alex,” Boudreau said. “That’s why you need secondary scoring. When you put your best player - in their case, Bouwmeester - on Alex, you need those other lines to step it up and play against the guys that aren’t their best player.”