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Game recap: Florida Panthers vs. Washington Capitals

Don’t call the Florida Panthers winless anymore.

The team that began the season 0-2-2 with each game decided by one goal held a three-goal lead after the first period against Washington Capitals. The reigning Stanley Cup champions erased the deficit less than 20 minutes later.

Both starting goalies were replaced in the second period during the wild contest. Just before the second intermission, the Panthers gained a two-man advantage and regained the lead moments later on Jonathan Huberdeau’s power-play goal.

Florida fended off the expected onslaught and held the lead with 85 seconds remaining when Nicklas Backstrom broke hearts with a game-tying power-play goal against goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who replaced an ineffective James Reimer. The Panthers couldn’t pounce on a final power-play chance that extended into overtime.

Then came a shootout. Trailing entering the third round, Vincent Trocheck kept the Panthers alive with a deft backhanded score. Backstrom’s shot found the goal post, putting the game on Huberdeau’s stick. He delivered against Washington backup goalie Pheonix Copley. For the first time this season, Panthers win, 6-5.

“Yeah, I think we needed this win real bad, so it just went in,” Huberdeau said of his shootout goal. “I think the guys played amazing and Hutchinson made some good saves. We got fortunate there. We got a nice two points.”

Regardless of the franchise’s first four-game winless streak to start a season since opening 0-3-3-3 in the 2000-2001 campaign, the pre-game vibe suggested a breakthrough nearing. The Panthers earned a point in Tuesday’s 6-5 shootout loss at Philadelphia despite trailing by three goals.

“We’ve had close games. We’ve had games we felt we should have won. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get those wins. You have to find ways,” center Nick Bjugstad said. “We’re struggling a little bit here to find a win, but we can take the pieces we’ve had from these past four games. We can look at some of the positives.”

“We’ve had close games. We’ve had games we felt we should have won. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get those wins. You have to find ways,” center Nick Bjugstad said. “We’re struggling a little bit here to find a win, but we can take the pieces we’ve had from these past four games. We can look at some of the positives.”

There were several Friday.

Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov, Colton Sceviour and Jared McCann scored in the first period for a 4-1 lead.

Just 32 seconds after Capitals defenseman John Carlson’s tied the score 1-1, the Panthers bolted back in front on the power play. Dadonov flipped a shot past goaltender Braden Holtby off a pinpoint centering pass from Aleksander Barkov.

It took another 38 seconds for a 3-1 lead. By comparison, it took an eternity for McCann’s score two minutes, 16 seconds later.

The lead disappeared nearly as quickly.

Goals from Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana pulled Washington within one halfway through the game. The game-tying goal occurred when Reimer couldn’t handle a soft lob from distance, and allowed a inexplicable rebound, which Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly rammed home for a 4-4 tie with 6:45 remaining in the second.

Florida coach Bob Boughner didn’t waste another second replacing Reimer with Hutchinson.

Help in the form of penalties soon followed.

Already on the penalty kill, Washington gifted Florida a 5-3 on advantage with an extra player on the ice infraction. Huberdeau pushed a rebound beyond Holtby with 50.2 seconds remaining in the third.

The Panthers needed another score from their center. Huberdeau delivered.

The chance to turn one into two comes quickly. Florida’s first back-to-back set of the young season concludes Saturday at BB& Center against Detroit. It will become to top Friday’s madness. Earning that first win stands out regardless.

“We talked about winning the first game and how good it’s going to feel, get the monkey off our back a little bit,” Boughner said. “Now I think we can move ahead. It would’ve been tough losing that game tonight, even if we had just one point.”

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