LANDOVER -- The game with the Florida Panthers was long over and Washington's 5-4 loss was in the book, when Capitals goalie Jim Carey leaned against a hallway wall, straightened his tie and prepared to talk about his disappointment.
A question had barely been asked, when Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld happened by.
"It's all right," said Schoenfeld, reaching a hand toward his young goalie and patting his face. "Don't worry about it. You were great before and you'll be great again."
Carey, who had seen four power-play goals and one at equal strength elude him, blushed.
"It's tough to lose a game like that," said Carey, 18-14-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average. "Two 5-on-3s, four power plays. They picked their corners well tonight. But just the way we lost it. You can't be happy with it. I'm not happy with it."
It wasn't Carey's night, but then, it wasn't the Caps' night in general, except perhaps for Pat Peake, who had a goal and two assists to tie his career point high.
The guy who had a night was Florida's Johan Garpenlov. He had two of the Panthers' record four power-play goals in the game and when he scored the game-winner at even strength with 55.4 seconds left, it was the first hat trick in Florida's 178-game history.
"Some nights you play great power play and you don't score," Garpenlov said. "Today, we got two 5-on-3s and we got two 5-on-4s. Some nights you score and some nights you don't and tonight was one of those we did."
The Caps had hoped for better as they kicked off the second half of the season, but against the third best team in the Eastern Conference, Washington proved it was on fairly equal footing.
Tomorrow, in New Jersey, the Caps will try to do what they couldn't do two weeks ago and beat the Devils.
After the Panthers built a 2-0 lead with power-play goals by Garpenlov and Scott Mellanby, Washington rallied for two within 22 seconds to rouse the USAir Arena crowd of 9,607.
Defenseman Calle Johansson scored on the power play with 8:16 gone in the second period and then Peake scored at 8:40.
Garpenlov, however, struck again at the end of the second period, when the Panthers were again presented a 5-on-3 advantage.
"It was a tough game," said Mellanby. "I think both sides felt they were getting a bad end from the referee. It's kind of fitting that they took the names off the backs of their sweaters this year."
Gord Murphy gave Florida a 4-2 lead on another power play early in the third but the Caps roared back again.
Dale Hunter scored his fifth goal of the season, his first since Nov. 30, and Peter Bondra, the team's leading goal-scorer, netted No. 27 to tie the score at 4.
"The best penalty killer you have is your goalie," said Schoenfeld. "Tonight wasn't Jimmy's night. Right now, we're very disappointed. But if you analyze the game, if Jimmy plays his normal game, we win.
"But I'm not going to beat us up or him up over this. He's been playing great and in his next five or six starts he will again. I don't think anyone should be ready to take us out behind the rink and shoot us."
Carey wasn't ready to let it go completely, though.
"I'm in this league to stop the puck," he said. "I don't care how the other team scores, whether it's Mario Lemieux scoring on five breakaways and I wouldn't consider it an OK game because they were good goals.
"It's not the way I approach the game and I'm not happy with it. Like Coach said, it's over, but it gives you something to think about, puts you back in your place and that's good sometimes."
Florida ..... 1 .. 2 .. 2 .. -- .. 5
Washington .. 0 .. 2 .. 2 .. -- .. 4