Capitals rout Panthers in Game 3 to take 2-1 series lead

Samsonov made 29 saves, Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal and assisted on another and the Capitals blew out the Panthers 6-1 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series. Chants of “Sammy! Sammy!” gave way to “Ovi! Ovi! in the third period of the convincing victory.

Game 4 is Monday in Washington.

T.J. Oshie deflected Ovechkin’s shot for one power-play goal, and Marcus Johansson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Garnet Hathaway also scored for the Capitals, who shook off a 5-1 loss in Game 2 and an early deficit in Game 3 behind the play of their new starting goaltender and a stingy effort that stymied the NHL’s best regular-season offense.

Samsonov got the nod to replace Vitek Vanecek in net after stopping all 17 shots in relief Thursday. He got off to a rough start, giving up a goal to league MVP candidate Jonathan Huberdeau less than three minutes in — then stopped every shot he saw the rest of the way.

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Washington Capitals left wing Marcus Johansson (90) celebrates his goal with his teammates during the second period of Game 3 in the first-round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs against the Florida Panthers, Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Washington.

Washington Capitals left wing Marcus Johansson (90) celebrates his goal with his teammates during the second period of Game 3 in the first-round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs against the Florida Panthers, Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

With Samsonov the backbone at even strength and short-handed, Washington’s penalty kill improved to 9 of 9 against Florida, which ranked fifth on the power play this season at just under 25%. The Panthers also led the league in scoring at more than four goals a game.

But this series against an opponent with more experience in postseason hockey — seven players remain from Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship — has been another rough lesson for the Panthers about how to win the playoffs. Ill-advised penalties by top-pairing defenseman Mackenzie Weegar and Huberdeau paved the way for the power-play goals, a missed defensive assignment opened the door for Johansson’s and a turnover in the corner led to van Riemsdyk’s.

Similar mistakes cost Florida in the first round last year: a loss to Tampa Bay on the way to the Lightning’s second of back-to-back titles. Only this time, the Panthers were expected to make a deep run after compiling an NHL-best 122 points on 58 victories in 82 games.

If they don’t win three more within the next eight days, it’ll go down as another disappointment for a franchise that hasn’t advanced in the playoffs since 1996 and entered the postseason as one of the favorites to hoist the Cup.

The Eastern Conference eighth-seeded Capitals improved to 4 of 12 on the power play in the series. Their victory guaranteed at least two more home playoff games this spring.

NOTES: John Carlson had an empty-net goal with 4:20 left. … Ovechkin’s goal was his 72nd in the playoffs, tying him with Patrick Marleau and Esa Tikkanen for 14th on the career list. His 28 power-play goals are tied for seventh. … Capitals right winger Tom Wilson missed a second consecutive game with a lower-body injury. … Connor McMichael made his NHL playoff debut, replacing Brett Leason, who took Wilson’s spot in Game 2 and skated just seven minutes.

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