SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers rallied late in the third period Saturday night, scoring twice in an eight-second span to break a 4-4 tie with the Washington Capitals.
For a team hoping to end a long playoff drought it was too bad the win didn’t count for much.
David Booth had two goals and three assists to lift the Panthers to a 7-4 win over the Capitals on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Steve Eminger and Michael Frolik had the back-to-back goals in the third period that broke the 4-4 tie, and Nick Tarnasky added an empty-netter with nine seconds remaining.
“I know this game didn’t mean anything for the playoff push any more,” Eminger said. “But it’s still a game. You’ve still got to work hard and make the best of it.”
Radek Dvorak and Bryan McCabe also scored for the Panthers, who were eliminated from playoff contention on Thursday. Booth’s goals were his 30th and 31st of the season; he became the sixth player in Florida’s franchise history to reach the 30-goal mark.
“That was a great effort tonight,” Booth said. “Kind of wish maybe Montreal or New York lost on Thursday but that’s the way it goes. You look back and over the course the year and just think where you could have made up one point.”
Alexander Semin scored twice for Washington, and Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin also got goals. The Capitals clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference on Thursday.
“We haven’t played as well as we would have liked in recent games,” Capitals defenceman Brian Pothier said. “I’m not sure the reason for that. But now we have to look forward.”
With his assist on Semin’s goal, Ovechkin tied his career high for assists in a season with 54, matching the total he set in his rookie season.
Ovechkin finished the season likely to win the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. He had 56 goals this season, 11 more than Philadelphia centre Jeff Carter.
The Capitals will face the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s finally good to know so you can prepare,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But then it’s like we’re preparing for a whole new team because we haven’t seen this team under (John) Tortorella that’s played very good. Right off the bat, I think we’re in for a tough team.”
Saturday’s game was the end of the line for the Panthers, who haven’t been in the post-season since 2000. Florida came tantalizingly close to the playoffs this year, finishing with 93 points. Workers were already breaking apart the ice at the BankAtlantic Center less than an hour after Saturday’s game.
“From a pride point of view, I think that we wanted to finish tied with Montreal and the Rangers for seventh and eighth,” Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “The fact that we don’t get in on a technicality is something we’ll have to live with.”
Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun made 37 saves, while Jose Theodore stopped 35 shots for Washington.
Booth broke a 3-3 tie with his goal at 6:48 in the third period, but at 13:09 in the third, Ovechkin beat Vokoun to make it 4-4. Eminger’s goal, his first for the Panthers, came at 15:32 to break the 4-4 tie. Then Frolik put home a rebound of a Booth shot at 15:40 in the third, giving Florida a 6-4 lead.
With 4:07 remaining in the second, Ovechkin’s pass went off Tarnasky and ricocheted toward Semin, who was near the crease. He picked up the loose puck and closed the gap to 3-2. Then Semin’s power-play goal tied it at 3-3 at 3:27 of the third period.
The Panthers went up 3-1 on McCabe’s power-play goal with 8:02 left in the second period. Booth’s pass set up the goal.
Dvorak’s breakaway goal at 8:20 in the second period gave Florida a 2-1 lead. Dvorak, who had just come out of the penalty box, took a pass from Karlis Skrastins near the blue line and beat Theodore with a slap shot from the slot. Booth tied it at 1-1 with 4:10 left in the first period. He threw the puck toward the net and it bounced off a Capitals player and into the net.
Washington opened the scoring at 10:15 in the first. Semin fed the puck to Laich after Florida defenceman Keith Ballard turned it over. Laich shot from the high slot to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
Notes: Washington beat the Panthers 3-1 in last year’s final regular-season game, a game that the Capitals needed to win to advance to the post-season. … Before Saturday’s game, Florida D Jay Bouwmeester was honoured as the team’s defenceman of the year and Booth was selected as the MVP. Fans voted for the awards online.