The way the Washington Capitals have played against the Panthers the past few years, they don’t really need extra power play time. But when they got it on Saturday night, they used it.
Washington, sporting the best power play unit in the league, snapped Florida’s three-game winning streak by going 3-for-5 on the advantage in a 4-3 win at BB&T Center.
Alex Ovechkin led the offensive assault on the Panthers as he recorded the 12th hat trick of his career — and added to his league-leading power play goal tally by scoring twice. Ovechkin has 23 goals this season with 14 on the power play.
The Capitals, whose run of four consecutive Southeast Division titles was busted by the Panthers last year, continue to lead Winnipeg by two points after winning three straight and nine of 13.
Florida scored three times — twice via Tomas Kopecky, the previous player to record a hat trick here — in the third but couldn’t tie things up.
“It wasn’t as much what they did, but what we did wrong,” said Kopecky, whose team lost all four meetings to the Capitals this season and were outscored 22-9 in the process.
Ovechkin scored his first of the night not long after Erik Gudbranson was slapped with a five-minute major and subsequently ejected for boarding Washington’s newly-acquired Martin Erat.
Erat slammed his head into the side boards and stayed down on the ice until he was gingerly helped off the ice and into the locker room.
Washington remained on the power play after Ovechkin’s initial goal and coach Kevin Dineen didn’t send a representative to the penalty box to serve the five minute infraction.
Dineen took the blame for waiting for a stoppage in play to send a player to the bin. Problem was play never stopped and Florida ended up being shorthanded 18 seconds longer than the initial five minutes.
“I made a huge mistake. That one gets hung on me,” Dineen said. “The game gets hung on me. I didn’t put a guy in the penalty box and the penalty expired so we were still short, we take a penalty and they score again. Bad coaching error by me.”
Washington went into the second on its third power play chance and made it 2-0 on Mike Ribiero’s 12th of the year. Ovechkin then scored Washington’s following two goals, a few dozen hats hitting the visiting ice after his third came with 5:38 left in the middle period.
Ovechkin has 30 goals and 31 assists in 47 games against the Panthers as Saturday marked the final time — for the foreseeable future — Florida and Washington met as division rivals as the league realigns next season.
The two have competed in the same division since 1998; Washington won 46 of the 83 meetings in divisional play with four ties.
Dineen pulled starter Jacob Markstrom after Washington’s fourth goal for a quick breather, reinserting him a minute later. Markstrom had been 5-2 in his previous seven starts with 14 goals allowed.
Florida finally got something going offensively in the third as Kopecky got the first goal with 13:15 left. Two minutes later, Peter Mueller got a power play goal to cut the deficit in half.
With Markstrom out, Florida sent six skaters at Braden Holtby and scored with 33 seconds left — only that’s as close as it got.
“Their power play is good and they score when they get the chance,” Markstrom said.
• With Drew Shore still out with a wrist injury, the Panthers called up forward Scott Timmins on Friday and put him on a fourth line with George Parros and Scottie Upshall.
It was Timmins’ first NHL promotion since he was arrested last month after allegedly being found in a home he didn’t own after a night of drinking in San Antonio. Timmins played in his 21st NHL game — all with Florida — on Saturday.
• Center Nick Bjugstad, 20, made his NHL debut on Saturday as friends and family from Minnesota and elsewhere traveled to South Florida to watch. Bjugstad played 19 shifts in 13:04 and had one shot on goal.