LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals had been searching for a way out of a goal-scoring nightmare and last night they found one.
A short-handed goal by Dave Poulin, an even-strength strike by Kelly Miller, a power-play goal by Calle Johansson and a solid performance by goalie Rick Tabaracci produced a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Poulin, with an assist from Tabaracci, gave Washington an early lead. After Florida had taken a 2-1 lead, Poulin blasted a shot from inside the blue line that Miller was able to put away, setting up Johansson's game-winner.
But if referee Lance Robinson hadn't disallowed a goal by Andrei Lomakin with 41.7 seconds left because the net had been knocked off its foundation, who knows what would have happened.
"It was a real close call," said Tabaracci. "But they were in behind me all night, bumping my stick and the net was off its base, so that made it an easier call. It was a good call."
The Panthers, of course, thought differently.
"The goal should have counted," said Florida coach Roger Neilson. "We watched it on the video. [Panthers' Scott] Mellanby was cross-checked into the net. He went flying into the net. He was lying in the net and the puck went out to Lomakin and he shot. And just as he shot it, [Capitals' Peter] Bondra pushed with his hand, pushed the net off the hook. That push shouldn't have been allowed."
But as far as the Capitals and their 13,372 fans at USAir Arena were concerned, the call was brilliant.
The winning goal came with 33 seconds left on a power play with 6:29 to play, when Calle Johansson unloaded a slap shot from just inside the blue line that touched only the back of the Florida goal. That made the Caps a winner and 1-for-7 on the power play.
"I didn't look at the net," said Johansson. "I just took a step and fired. And it felt good. It felt real good, because we hadn't scored when we had the 5-on-3 chance."
Johansson scored, but the battle that created the opportunity was fought behind the Panthers' net and along the boards, as Bondra, Dale Hunter and Dimitri Khristich refused to give up on the puck and fought for every inch of ice, until Hunter was finally able to get the puck to Khristich, who passed to Johansson for the one-timer.
"We knew they were as tired as we were," said Hunter. "But we had the man advantage and we kept on the puck all the time. They had their guys down low and I counted how many there were and when I looked, Calle-Jo was wide open.
"We stayed with it. Got the puck loose. Got it to Calle for a great shot and -- we win! Sometimes it is not pretty. But it's two points in the standings and we really need them."
The Capitals had led only once in a game this season before last night, and enjoyed their second lead with 6:09 left in the first period.
For the Caps, it was especially pleasing, given the way it was scored. The Panthers were on the power play, but instead of controlling the puck they continued to dump it into the Capitals' zone. It was there that Tabaracci got his stick on it and sent an outlet pass to Poulin.
"We hadn't practiced it," said Tabaracci. "But for an 80-year-old man, Poulin can really move."
Poulin did, indeed, sprint down the ice, and when Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck (35 saves) came out of the crease to challenge him, Poulin eluded the sliding goalie and backhanded the puck into the net.
The assist by Tabaracci was the goalie's first as a Capital and only the 46th time in the team's 21-year history that a goalie had assisted on a goal. The last time was 30 games ago in Miami, when Don Beaupre did it against these same Panthers in a 4-2 victory.
PD For Poulin, 36, it was the 30th short-handed goal of his career.