By Julie Harrison
Lars Eller broke a third-period tie and the Capitals defeated the Florida Panthers 4-3 to snap a two-game skid despite posting a season-low 20 shots.
Braden Holtby made 37 saves for Washington, including one while he played without a stick just moments before Eller gave the Capitals the lead on the other end.
Alex Ovechkin added his team-leading 16th goal for the Metropolitan Division leaders, who have yet to suffer a three-game losing streak this season. In their previous two defeats, the Capitals scored one goal in each despite putting more than 30 pucks on target.
“I think for a couple of games we haven’t had the bounces and the puck luck,” Eller said. “Maybe today we had that, especially when we needed it in the third. Just not one of our best games, but we found a way to win — against a pretty good team, too.”
Richard Panik also scored and Brendan Leipsic added an insurance goal in the third period that proved the game-winner. Jonas Siegenthaler had two assists.
Brett Connolly scored his team-leading 12th goal for Florida in his return against his former team, as the Panthers sank to a third consecutive loss.
Vincent Trochek scored and had an assist, and Mike Hoffman added his 10th goal in the Panthers’ second one-goal loss to the Capitals this season.
Keith Yandle picked up two assists while Alexsander Barkov got his team-leading 23rd.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 16 stops in defeat as his current save percentage dropped to .884, well below his career .918 mark.
“I think every game is different,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Bobrovsky, who still holds a 9-6 record. “Goalies get scrutinized to a different level, but in a game like tonight on the road against a good team, you need timely saves, you need big saves and that can be the difference.”
After Holtby lost his stick in traffic in front of his crease, he used his pad to deny Mike Matheson’s wrister early in the third period, and the Caps turned the rebound into a rush into Florida’s zone.
“It’s not that difficult without a stick,” said Holtby, who said he was slashed and was shaking his wrist prior to the save. “On a straight-on shot you can play everything. I was more fighting through that slash.”
Bobrovsky stopped Jakub Vrana’s initial shot from the left, but Eller reached the rebound, lifting it above the traffic converging in Bobrovsky’s crease and into the net.
Leipsic made it 4-2 with 8:01 left when he scored between Bobrovsky’s pads again, after Ovechkin did so in the first period.
It proved needed after Trochek answered with 4:29 left. But Yandle’s slashing penalty inside the final minute ended Florida’s comeback hopes.
“We’re looking at the scoresheet at the end of the night and it’s four goals,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “That’s something that we haven’t done recently. That’s something we talked about.”