WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin was 4 months old the only time the Washington Capitals started a game with a quicker four-goal outburst than they produced Thursday night.
What a way to start: four goals on eight shots in less than 8 1/2 minutes.
John Erskine, Wojtek Wolski, John Carlson and Mike Ribeiro all scored while Ovechkin chipped in two assists during that perfect beginning before adding a goal later, and the Capitals climbed out of a tie for last in the Eastern Conference by beating the Florida Panthers 7-1 Thursday night.
“Of course, it’s a little bit luck,” the 27-year-old Ovechkin said. “But we need that kind of luck right now.”
The Capitals, citing the Elias Sports Bureau, said the 8-minute, 10-second spree represented the second-fastest four goals to start a game in team history. Washington accumulated four within 6:49 of the opening faceoff against the Minnesota North Stars on Jan. 21, 1986.
“We wanted to jump on them early,” Ribeiro said. “We were able to do that.”
Florida’s Jacob Markstrom allowed two goals on two shots and was pulled after 3 minutes, 10 seconds—the fastest yanking of an NHL goalie for something other than an injury in more than a year, according to STATS LLC.
“I don’t like to hang out anybody to dry, but obviously I don’t think Jacob Markstrom was ready to play tonight,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.
Markstrom’s replacement, Scott Clemmensen, didn’t fare much better, giving up two goals in the first six shots. Asked about that performance, Dineen said: “It’s easy to hang him out to dry, but you know what? If you’re the starting guy, you’ve got to be the go-to guy.”
When Dineen’s comments about not being ready to play were relayed to Markstrom, the goalie pursed his lips tightly, shrugged his shoulders and did not reply, ending his 75-second interview session with reporters.
Here is what Markstrom did offer earlier: “I don’t know what to say. I couldn’t stop the puck in the first two shots or whatever, first 3 minutes. No excuse for that. It was terrible. I feel like I let the team down. I’m there to stop pucks and I didn’t do that tonight.”
Ten players each earned at least a point in Thursday’s four-goal outburst. Late in the first period, Ribeiro pulled back at the end of a forward rush, content to perform the hockey equivalent of dribbling out the clock in basketball. The red-wearing fans saluted the home team with a standing ovation as the period expired.
Braden Holtby made 29 saves in his 11th consecutive start, the longest streak for a Washington goalie since Olie Kolzig started 16 in a row in 2003.
“It’s hard to play your game in those last two periods when you have a lead,” Holtby said, “but I think we did a very good job of it.”
The Capitals and the reigning Southeast Division champion Panthers entered tied for the fewest points in the East with 19.
But after starting the season with two wins in its first 11 games, Washington has won eight of its last 11.
“We started so bad that it was a big hole to climb out of, and it didn’t look good,” Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner said. “We’re just happy that we’re winning games right now, and we don’t want to be a .500 team.”
The Panthers, meanwhile, have won two of their last eight games as they deal with all sorts of injury problems, including to centre Stephen Weiss—expected to miss the rest of the season because of a wrist surgery—and goalie Jose Theodore. As it is, Florida began the game having allowed an NHL-worst 83 goals in 23 games, a 3.61 average.
The only blemish on this night for the Capitals was the hit that forward Jason Chimera took from Florida’s Tyson Strachan, who was given a game misconduct penalty. Chimera left for the locker room to get checked by a trainer, but he did eventually return to the ice. It took 20 seconds into the power play for Ovechkin to make it 5-0, diving to the ice to celebrate his ninth goal of the season.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he thought the hit was “a little late,” but added: “I’m glad Chimmer’s OK.”
Notes: STATS LLC said Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin was pulled after 1:35 on Feb. 20, 2012, against the Senators. … Florida has lost its past seven games at Washington, getting outscored 31-7. … The Capitals are 3-0 against Florida this season, part of a 6-2 mark against Southeast Division opponents; they’re 4-9-1 against everyone else.
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