In one of the stranger endings of the season, the Capitals held on to beat the Panthers in a Southeast Division battle, with the Caps needing their struggling penalty-killing unit to burn off a five-minute major in the closing minutes - not to mention a pair of two-man disadvantages - to take the important four-point game.
Center to the Caps' win as well was the play of defenseman Mike Green, who set a new career high with his 18th and 19th goals of the season in the final period, giving the defenseman goals in six straight games, a new franchise record. Green scored the go-ahead goal in the opening minute of the third period, firing in a pass from Alex Ovechkin, then scoring an improbable empty-net goal from the far corner during a 6-on-4 advantage for Florida.
Green's 18th goal set a new personal career mark - despite him missing 13 games already this season due to injury and with 28 games still left to play for Washington. The goal gave him 14 power-play goals, second overall in the NHL and more importantly, it gave the Caps a tenous 2-1 lead in a game featuring solid goaltending by Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun, a score that held as the clock moved towards the five-minute mark.
But the tide seemed to be turning against Washington when defenseman Shaone Morrisonn took a checking from behind penalty when he caught Cory Stillman along the boards, with Stillman needing stitches. After determining an attempt to injure the officials tossed him with a major. The Capitals, already down a man thanks to a Sergei Fedorov minor, were going to play short-handed for all but one second of regulation, and for a unit that had allowed a power-play goal in 13 straight contests, it seemed assured that it would at least require an extra session.
However, with 1:05 of a 5-on-3, the Panthers failed to even get off a shot, and the Caps held through another two minutes without allowing the equalizer. Then, after Vokun headed to the bench after a whistle to give Florida a 6-on-4, the Panthers were pressing when Green turned and fired a blocked shot all the way into the gaping net for a 3-1 final.
When asked about the goal, Green laughed and said he "lucked out," noting he saw a defenseman along the boards to block a potential clear down the wall, so he fired it through the middle - and a shot that went in for his 19th goal of the season.
The win was important for the Caps, as while they enjoy a sizable lead in the Southeast, they also have plenty of games remaining against teams looking to close the gap. Florida entered the game with five games left against Washington and trailing by a dozen points, meaning a strong performance could close the gap in a hurry, something Green also noted, although cautioning the race was far from over with two months to play in the season.
But, thanks to Green's record-setting night, the Caps got a bit more breathing room.