WASHINGTON – Matthew Tkachuk scored the tiebreaking goal with one minute left in regulation and had two assists as the Florida Panthers beat the Washington Capitals 4-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.
Sam Reinhart had a goal and an assist, and Carter Verhaeghe and Aaron Ekblad also scored for Florida, which reclaimed the top wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers moved past Pittsburgh, which beat Detroit earlier Saturday. Florida is tied with the New York Islanders with 91 points but holds the tiebreaker.
“We have to keep it going,” Tkachuk said. “Teams around us are winning and fortunately for us, we kind of control our destiny here. We’ve just got to keep winning here. We all want to make it in so bad, so we’re just doing whatever it takes right now to make sure that happens.”
Aleksander Barkov had two assists and Alex Lyon had 22 saves for the Panthers.
Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist, and Dylan Strome also scored for Washington, which lost its sixth straight and will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in nine years. Charlie Lindgren stopped 33 shots.
“Obviously we’re out of the playoffs, but we’re trying to play spoiler,” Strome said. “I thought (Lindgren) had an unbelievable game. That game is probably 5-2, 6-2 if it’s not for him in the third period ... you could see they were really pressing, they need the points.”
The Capitals played with just 17 skaters for the second straight game, with Alex Ovechkin, Anthony Mantha, T.J. Oshie and Trevor van Riemsdyk out with injuries. Washington is now 0-7-0 without Ovechkin this season and has lost the last 10 games he’s missed.
“We’re all in this together. It’s unfortunate the way it ended,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought the guys played hard tonight. They competed hard, they were invested, they were physical, they were skating. They had to overcome a lot of things on the ice.”
After a quiet opening period and two Florida goals being waved off due to high sticks, both teams got on the board in a busy second period.
Strome opened the scoring at 8:51 of the middle period, lifting a rebound in tight past Lyon to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. It marked his third straight game with a goal and his 21st of the season.
Just over two minutes later, Verhaeghe got the Panthers on the board, firing a one-timer past Lindgren.
Ekblad then gave Florida a 2-1 lead at 13:47 of the second, scoring a power-play goal off a rebound. However, Wilson tied things up shortly after driving to the net and redirecting Conor Sheary’s feed to the front.
The Panthers tilted the ice and piled on pressure in the third, and Tkachuk gave Florida a late lead with his 40th goal of the season. Reinhart sealed the win with an empty netter.
“It was a tight-checking game, it was a grinder,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “The pressure is building in our room as that game goes on. You go tied going into the third, so you’re watching for that reaction to the pressure and we were pretty good in the third, that was our best by far. And pushed hard. I don’t know, I believe, maybe it’s karma or not, but we get the two goals (waved off early), but they stayed with it. We got better as the game went on, certainly in the third, so that’s a great sign.”
Ovechkin (day-to-day, upper-body) has now missed just 54 games in his NHL career. ... Beck Malenstyn played in his first NHL game since breaking his finger on Nov. 1, as Washington recalled him under emergency conditions amid mounting injuries. ... Ekblad has points in seven straight games, Brandon Montour extended his point streak to six games and Tkachuk now has points in five straight contests.
Panthers: Host Toronto on Monday night.
Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Monday night.
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