SUNRISE, Fla. – Tomas Vokoun made the most of his return to Florida.
Alexander Semin scored the tiebreaking goal and Vokoun made 22 saves against his former team as the Washington Capitals beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Friday night. It was the first time Vokoun faced the Panthers on their home ice since he was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in the off-season.
“A big game, I was a little nervous, too,” said Vokoun, who spent four seasons with the Panthers. “It’s not easy playing back where I played last year, and we’re chasing them. But I settled in and obviously a great finish by our guys.”
Alex Ovechkin also scored as the Capitals moved two points behind the first-place Panthers in the Southeast Division.
Tomas Fleischmann scored for Florida and Jose Theodore stopped 39 shots.
Semin took a slap shot from above the right circle, and the puck deflected off the stick of Florida’s Sean Bergenheim and past Theodore’s glove with 6:33 to go.
“I saw it hit his stick and change directions a bit,” Panthers defenceman Brian Campbell said. “It’s tough for a goalie to pick that anytime that happens. It’s a bit of a fluky goal,but we’ve got to be better allowing it.”
The Capitals, who won for the first time in four games, tied the score on Ovechkin’s power-play goal at 4:47 of the third. It was his team-leading 24th goal of the season.
Florida defenceman Mike Weaver took a stick to the face from Washington’s Mike Knuble during a flurry in front and collapsed on the ice, leaving the Panthers a man short. The puck came out to Ovechkin below the left circle and he wristed it past Theodore.
“You hope the the puck comes to you and you just shoot the puck and it goes in,” Ovechkin said. “I was just lucky. In the situation we’re in, we need luck.”
The Panthers had four penalties in the third period.
“We got into penalty trouble in the third and couldn’t stave off all those opportunities they were given,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “That was the difference in the hockey game.”
Florida took a 1-0 lead on Fleischmann’s goal with 40 seconds left in the first period. Stephen Weiss brought the puck out from behind the net and made a nifty pass to Fleischmann in the left circle. His slap shot got past Vokoun for his 10th point in his last 10 games. It was also the first goal Florida scored against its former goalie in three games this season.
Vokoun, who played for the Panthers the previous four seasons before signing with the Caps in the off-season, and and Theodore, who played for the Capitals from 2008-10, faced off against each other for the first time in five games this season.
Washington had a goal disallowed in the last minute of the second period when Knuble was called for goaltender interference. Brooks Laich shot from the left circle and Knuble tipped it in, but he was in the crease before the puck got there.
“We had a goal disallowed, and that’s always tough,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. “But the guys were ready to play tonight. They played hard and they wanted to win bad.”
Linesman Andy McElman was hit by a puck along the boards in the third period. He slumped over the boards in front of the Washington bench for several minutes, then left the game. According to an NHL official, McElman suffered a broken nose. The other three officials completed the game.
NOTES: Hall of Famer Gordie Howe was in attendance at Friday’s game. … Capitals RW Knuble returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous three games. … Florida C John Madden missed Friday’s game with a lower body injury. … When the sound system failed just as singer Erin Boyle was to begin the national anthem, the Florida crowd sang aloud instead, and completed the song with no musical accompaniment.