- The Washington Times
Saturday, May 7, 2022

While he was happy for his former teammates, Marcus Johansson admitted earlier this season that it was “frustrating” to see the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup just one year after the team he spent seven years with traded him away. 

That’s why being traded back to Washington at this season’s deadline was so appealing to the 31-year-old forward. “This is the one place I wanted to go,” Johansson said in March when the Capitals acquired him from the Seattle Kraken, adding that returning to the District felt “special.”

Johansson did his part Saturday afternoon to potentially spark another special Stanley Cup Playoff run for the Capitals, scoring what ended up being the game-winning goal and adding an assist in Washington’s 6-1 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 3 of the first round. 

“I think we came out harder and responded,” Johansson said about bouncing back from Thursday’s 5-1 loss. “Last game kind of pissed us off a little bit. We played a good 60 minutes. We had to work for it in the beginning, and we earned the win. It was a good team effort.

The underdog Capitals now lead the series 2-1 over the top-seeded Panthers. Florida, the Presidents’ Trophy winner with a sparkling 58-18-6 regular-season record, were heavy favorites entering the series against the aging Capitals, who came into the playoffs banged up and on a four-game losing streak. Now, Washington is two wins away from its first postseason series victory since that illustrious 2018 championship run. 

Winger T.J. Oshie said the team’s energy was high for all 60 minutes, helping the Capitals grind out the win after a slow start offensively. 

“It was our turn to respond in Game 3,” Oshie said. “I think the boys did a good job from the drop of the puck all the way through. The score might have been 6-1, but we didn’t score our first goal for a while. We had to grind it out for a little while.”

With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second period, an impressive save by Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov — one of many for the 25-year-old in his first start of the 2022 postseason — propelled an odd-man rush that led to Johansson’s goal. Anthony Mantha’s shot was deflected by a Panthers defender right to Johansson, who didn’t hesitate to flick a backhand shot past Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. 

“Luckily, the bounce got to me,” Johansson said. “It felt good to see that one go in. I felt like we earned it, and when you do that, it feels even better to get those goals.”

After the loss in Game 2, coach Peter Laviolette was unhappy with how his team played in the third period, saying he didn’t see the same “fight” that he saw in Game 1. 

Saturday’s game didn’t start much better, as the Panthers drew first blood with a goal less than three minutes into the contest. Only seconds after Alex Ovechkin delivered the first of multiple bone-crushing hits, Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau flicked a wrister past Samsonov. 

Samsonov, who earned the start in net ahead of Vitek Vanecek, was too slow with his glove save attempt as the puck nestled into the top-right corner of the cage. But the Russian netminder was flawless for the remainder of the game, keeping the Panthers’ high-flying offense at bay, stopping 29 of Florida’s 30 shots. 

“I thought he was sharp all night,” Laviolette said about Samsonov. 

A few minutes after an eight-minute drought in the heart of the first period, Oshie tied the score with 26 seconds remaining. The 35-year-old deflected a shot from Ovechkin past Bobrovsky just six seconds into the Capitals’ second power play of the game. 

The Panthers had multiple chances early in the second period to retake the lead, as the Capitals committed back-to-back penalties to send Florida to the man advantage. But Washington’s penalty kill unit was stout as it’s been for much of the season. Through three games, the Capitals haven’t allowed a power-play goal against the Panthers, who led the NHL with 4.11 goals per game this season. 

“We’re limiting their shots, limiting their chances, and when they have gotten some, [Samsonov] has been there to shut the door or we’ve had someone come in with a big block,” Oshie said about the Capitals’ penalty kill. “Special teams are really important in the postseason. You want to get that edge, and tonight we did that.”

Eight minutes after Johansson’s goal, he assisted Trevor van Riemsdyk’s score that doubled the Capitals’ lead. Ovechkin, John Carlson and Garnet Hathaway all scored third-period goals to seal the victory.

Ovechkin, whose health was a question mark to start the playoffs due to an upper-body injury that kept him out of the final three contests of the regular season, then sealed the victory with a power-play goal — a one-timer from his office. Carlson then chipped in late with an empty-netter, while Hathaway found the back of the cage in the final minute. 

The Capitals will have a chance to take a 3-1 series lead over the Panthers at Capital One Arena on Monday night.

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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