After Tuesday's wild 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay, the Capitals followed a familiar script in south Florida Wednesday night, falling behind by three goals thanks to some uninspired and sloppy play to open the game, then erasing the deficit with a strong surge on the road.
Washington fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the final 24 minutes of regulation to force overtime, as goals by Brian Pothier, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom drew the Capitals even at four.
On this night, however, there was a much happier ending for the Capitals, as Washington salvaged the latter half of their two-night Florida tour with a 5-4 shootout win over the Panthers, with Tomas Fleischmann ending a six-round shootout with a goal over Tomas Vokun's shoulder and delivering two points for the Caps.
Following a poor first period in Tampa Bay, the Capitals once again got themselves in big trouble early, giving up a pair of goals to fall behind early with a lackluster effort to open the game.
After some nice saves by Vokun on Alexander Semin kept the Caps off the board, Michael Frolik then made a nice move to put the puck past Michal Neuvirth 6:44 in to put the hosts up 1-0.
Before the period was out, the Panthers doubled their lead on a goal by Dominic Moore that initially the referees missed and let play continue. After Moore's shot hit the back of the cage, the puck bounced out and the teams kept playing on until the next whistle, when replay officials confirmed Moore's shot went in and put Florida up 2-0 with 4:49 left in the frame.
Like Tuesday's game, the Caps struck early in the second period, when Jason Chimera broke in on Vokun and beat him with a move to the backhand and deposited it in the cage with just 18 seconds gone in the period. The goal was Chimera's second in a Washington sweater, and also his second on the three-game road trip.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, a penalty on Backstrom turned into a soft goal allowed by Neuvirth, as a long shot by Stephen Weiss trickled through the goaltender's pads for a 3-1 Panthers lead just 3:50 after Chimera put Washington on the board.
Gregory Campbell then dropped the Capitals behind 4-1 for the second straight night, as he backhanded a puck past Neuvirth with 9:49 gone in the frame, and leading to the young goalie getting the hook on two consecutive nights.
Brian Pothier brought the Caps within two with 3:48 left in the period, as he pinched in and got the feed from Brendan Morrison and buried the puck to make it 4-2.
Ovechkin then pulled the Capitals within one just :27 into the third, picking up a loose puck that the Panthers' defensemen couldn't handle and beat Vokun for his 28th goal of the campaign.
Washington then got a golden chance to draw even with their first extra-man advantage of the game with 16:11 left in regulation, but couldn't really get much going failed to get the equalizer.
However, for the second straight night, the Capitals erased a 4-1 deficit on the road, as Mike Green's shot was redirected by Backstrom past Vokun with 7:35 left in the third.
With the game beginning to open up and seeing the two teams trade good chances, Mike Knuble nearly gave the Capitals their first lead of the night with 3:15 left in the third, as redirected a shot that beat Vokun but not the post and the score remained tied up at four.
Despite some good chances during the last 195 seconds of the third, regulation ended with both teams getting a point.
Like the end of regulation, the overtime period was a wild back-and-forth affair, with Keith Ballard, Nathan Horton and Frolik getting good scoring chances on Jose Theodore, while Backstrom and Mike Green had a chance to end the game for Washington. Florida even got a chance with the extra man for the last :49.4 of the five-minute session, but could not net the winner in overtime and the game went into a shootout.
Theodore forced Rostislav Olesz to shoot wide to open the shootout, but Backstrom hit the post on Washington's first chance. Stephen Reinprecht then was stopped by Theodore, and Vokun answered by stuffing Semin's backhand attempt. Horton failed to score in Florida's third shootout attempt, and Ovechkin couldn't deliver with the win on his stick.
Weiss then broke the shootout shutout by Theodore, beating him through the legs, and with the pressure on, Morrison answered Vokun's pokecheck attempt by delivering a puck through the legs to force a fifth round. Frolik then beat Theodore high to give the Panthers another chance to win, but Brooks Laich delivered to keep the shootout going.
Corey Stillman hit the post with Florida's sixth attempt, and Tomas Fleischmann beat Vokun for a shootout win against his Olympic teammate.
After spending a bulk of the first half of the season on the road, the Capitals will finally get a chance to hang around Washington for a long stretch, with a three-game homestand beginning Friday when the Maple Leafs pay a visit to Verizon Center, and also seven of Washington's next nine games will be at home.