SUNRISE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals resorted to a familiar formula against the Florida Panthers—find Alex Ovechkin and let him do the rest.
Ovechkin recorded his 12th career hat trick and added an assist, and the surging Capitals survived a late rally by the Panthers for a 4-3 victory on Saturday night.
Ovechkin scored twice from in close on the power play, and weaved through traffic for his other goal, as the Capitals (19-17-2) improved to 8-2-1 in their last 11 games in completing a four-game season sweep of the Panthers.
The Southeast Division-leading Capitals, who scored at least five goals against Florida in their previous three games, struck quickly with a pair of goals from Mike Ribeiro and Ovechkin within 1:41 early in the second period.
Braden Holtby made 27 saves in posting his fifth career victory over the Panthers (12-20-6) without a loss.
Holtby continues to be impressed with Ovechkin, who has 13 goals in his last 10 games.
“He brings us energy. He’s doing what we expect him to do,” Holtby said. “That’s the player we expect out of him and he’s doing a great job of it.”
The Panthers, who were seeking their fourth straight victory, rallied in the third period behind two goals from Tomas Kopecky and another by Peter Mueller.
Ovechkin, who has 23 goals this season, started his night by beating Jacob Markstrom from the stick side following a 5-minute boarding penalty to Panthers’ defenceman Erik Gudbranson in the first period. Ovechkin tipped in a cross-ice pass from Ribeiro just over a minute following the major.
“The guys did a great job to find me. I just had to put it in the net,” Ovechkin said.
Gudbranson’s penalty, which included a game misconduct, followed a hit from behind to right-winger Martin Erat at the 14:37 mark of the first period.
Erat, who came over from Nashville and made his debut with the Capitals on April 4, was down for several minutes and had to be helped off the ice with a lower body injury. He did not return and will be re-evaluated Sunday morning.
Florida Head Coach Kevin Dineen made a critical error when he failed to send a player to the penalty box following Gudbranson’s major. The result left the Panthers a man short even after the five-minute penalty had expired.
“That was a big changing, turning point in the game. It gets hung on me,” Dineen said. “I didn’t put a guy in the penalty box, the penalty expires, we have nobody to come out of the box, so we’re still short and we ended up taking another (penalty). They scored one at the beginning of the second. Bad coaching error by me.”
The league’s top power-play producers struck again with the man advantage just 43 seconds into the second period when Ribeiro was able to tuck in a loose puck after Markstrom made the initial save off a blistering slap shot by Mike Green from the high slot.
Washington coach Adam Oates felt the Gudbranson major set the tone for things to come.
“A five-minute power play, you obviously want to score a goal during that. We did; got us a little life,” Oates said. “Then we got one to start the second period, so obviously the game is going in our favour there.”
Washington made it 3-0 when Ovechkin maintained possession of the puck despite two poke-away attempts by Panthers’ defenceman Filip Kuba and connected on a wrist shot past Markstrom.
Ovechkin then took a perfect feed from Marcus Johansson and sent a quick wrist shot past Markstrom for Washington’s third power-play goal in five attempts.
The Capitals outscored Florida 32-12 in the four games.
“We play our way,” Ovechkin said. “When everybody gets into the play and everybody plays hard and plays simple, it’s going to work, especially with the kind of opportunities we had on the power play.”
Markstrom surrendered four goals on the Capitals’ first 22 shots.
Niklas Backstrom added three assists for the Capitals. He leads the team in assists with 33.
NOTES: The Capitals have won six straight games against Florida. … Panthers’ centre Nick Bjugstad made his NHL debut, taking the ice at the 1:15 mark of the first period. He logged just over 13 minutes of ice time. … Green, who had five goals in the past four games, was held scoreless. … Florida forward Jack Skille returned to action following an upper body injury. … Washington improved to 17-9-1 in its last 27 games following a 2-8-1 start.