In hockey, a game can be won or lost in a matter of seconds.
On Thursday, the Panthers were on the wrong side of that equation as Alex Ovechkin scored late to lift Washington to a 5-4 win at BB&T Center.
Ovechkin’s goal came moments after Tim Thomas kept Florida in the game with a spectacular glove save he made on Mike Green while lying on his back.
Thomas made the save look a little tougher as he fell skating backward into position, but his snap reflex with his glove will be remembered.
“I got caught on the ice, caught on a rut,” Thomas said. “It turned into a nice highlight-reel type of save. It was like, I have to make some way to make this save, or I’ll look like an idiot.”
The Panthers rallied from not one but a pair of two-goal deficits on Thursday yet fell a bit short as they tried to come out of the Olympic break with a win.
Florida, which has lost seven of nine, trailed 2-0 before tying things up only to see the Caps make it 4-2 by the end of the third.
The Panthers got back into the game when they scored a power play goal 8:01 into the third as 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes blocked goalie Braden Holtby’s view as Drew Shore’s point shot sailed through.
Just over a minute later, Brad Boyes tied the score by getting his second goal of the night by following up on his own rebound to make it 4-4.
Florida kept pushing but couldn’t get that fifth goal. Washington, eventually, did.
“We’ve been able to come back in the past this season, come back in the third,” said Boyes, whose wife gave birth to his second child on Monday. “But we talk about a 60-minute game. The resilience is there, but we give teams opportunities. We give them a lot. We gave up power plays, turnovers. If we cut those out, we’re better off.”
Thomas, who made 30 saves, watched Green shoot out of the penalty box with 4:42 left and pick up a pass in the neutral zone unopposed. Thomas began working his way back to the cage when he caught his skate, falling to his back. Green couldn’t get the puck high enough to avoid Thomas’ leather, the save stunning Green and the Capitals.
Moments later, Ovechkin took a cross-ice pass from Brooks Laich and lit into it, scoring the winner. Ovechkin, fresh off his Russian Olympic disappointment, set up two other Washington goals.
“The last thing you want to give up … after that type of save is a 2-on-1 opportunity for them,’’ Thomas said afterward.
Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio were forced into an almost month-long road trip because of the annual rodeo and stock show. It was quite the successful trip.
On Wednesday, the Rampage ended its 10-game sojourn with a seventh win — a 3-0 win in Utica, N.Y. Goalie Jacob Markstrom recorded his second shootout of the trip.
“This year, I think, was the longest one because we never went home,’’ said Panthers center Drew Shore, who spent the Olympic break on the road with the Rampage. “It was fun. We had a few days off, went to Niagara Falls, had some team dinners and won a lot of games. That makes things fun.’’
The successful trip helped pull San Antonio within two points — as of early Thursday — of the AHL’s final playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Antonio missed the postseason last year.
“A month out of your building but they knew it, it was planned,’’ said Peter Horachek, who coached the Rampage before replacing Kevin Dineen in Florida. “They did a great job, bonded, came together.’’• The Panthers’ first goal Thursday came as Tomas Fleischmann broke his long drought by scoring his first goal in 23 games by one-timing a slick feed from Jesse Winchester with 4:33 left in the first.
Fleischmann has been Florida’s leading scorer the past two seasons but hadn’t scored since Dec. 17.