Alex Ovechkin has caused the Florida Panthers great pain throughout his career and did so again Thursday as he tipped in a Lars Eller shot midway through the third to lift the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 win at BB&T Center.
The loss was Florida’s first in regulation this season.
Ovechkin now has 34 goals and 71 points in 55 games against the Panthers.
The loss overshadowed another milestone goal by future Hall of Fame foward Jaromir Jagr as he notched his 750th career NHL goal in the second period. Jagr scored on the power play off a pass from linemate Sasha Barkov.
The goal tied things at 2, with the Caps scoring twice in the third. Ovechkin’s goal was the difference as the Capitals scored for the final time with 1:20 left.
“We didn’t play very good in the third period,” Jagr said. “We just, for whatever reason, didn’t spend enough time in their zone to make them tired and create scoring chances. We had some, not enough.”
Washington jumped to a 2-0 lead early as the Caps matched the goals allowed by Roberto Luongo in his first two games in the opening 11 minutes.
Down 2-0, the Panthers got one back when rookie defenseman Mike Matheson sent a shot toward the net from the side boards and beat reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby. The goal was second of Matheson’s career — and in as many games.
Florida completely dominated the second yet only got a goal for the effort as Jagr notched his first of the season with 5:50 left in the period.
“It’s always good to get the first one and it was off a good pass,” said Jagr, who had gone 10 consecutive games (including six in the playoffs) without a goal. “I was very open in the middle of the slot. I had a lot of chances in other games, just couldn’t put the puck in.”
Jagr's goal should have given the Panthers a lead — only Florida had an earlier goal waived off on an early whistle as an official lost track of the puck (it was clearly on the ice in front of a downed Holtby) and blew his whistle just before Colton Sceviour jammed it home.
Because the whistle was blown, play stopped and any review from league offices in Toronto was simply an extra time out after the official acknowledged to ending things with the whistle.
“He came over and said he was out of position, thought the puck was frozen,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He was honest. What do you do? We would love to have that goal, obviously. The ref stood up, said he thought it was covered. He wasn’t hiding behind it. He made a mistake and it happens.”
Thursday’s game was the first head-to-head battle between Holtby and Luongo since the NHL record 20-round shootout won by Florida on Dec. 17, 2014.
On Thursday, Holtby finished with 26 saves; Luongo stopped 25 and took his first loss. Washington scored its final goal with 1:20 left.