LANDOVER -- A crowd of 15,713 finally came out to see what all the commotion over the Washington Capitals was about last night. They went home still wondering.
With a chance to overtake the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals played what very well might be their least impressive game of the season and saw their four-game winning streak come to a resounding halt with a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.
And with the victory, the Panthers did what the Capitals couldn't. Today, for at least one day, the Florida Panthers (9-4-0) can say they're No. 1 in the East.
The Capitals, who have had a tendency to allow opposing teams an early lead before battling back, found three first-period goals by Radek Dvorak, Robert Svehla and Rob Niedermayer too much to overcome last night.
The Capitals (8-4) will try to regroup tonight on the road against the New York Islanders. Capitals right wing Peter Bondra beat Florida goalie Mark Fitzpatrick for one goal in the first period, but the Caps could not find the net again until there was just 2:33 left.
At that point Sergi Gonchar scored. After that, the Caps peppered the net, but with no better results than they had had earlier in the night.
Fitzpatrick, who made 23 saves, stopped Bondra in the second period on a wrap-around attempt. He got lucky in the third, when a blazing shot by Joe Juneau hit the post. And he helped himself with a save on another blistering shot by Bondra on Washington's fifth power play of the night.
Capitals goalie Jim Carey, who faced only 11 shots, allowed the three Florida goals on the Panthers' first five shots. But he did keep the Caps in it at 8:54 of the third period, when he made one amazing save on a shot by Mike Hough on a two-on-one breakaway.
Florida wasted no time picking up where it left off the night before in Philadelphia. Against the Flyers, the Panthers took the early lead and went on to win 2-1. By the time the first period was over here last night, the Panthers were out front, 3-1.
The game was just 1:23 old, when right wing Mike Hough fanned on a shot, but had the puck go off his skate to left wing Dvorak, who beat Carey. Washington respond 30 second later with a goal by Peter Bondra, that was set up by a pass from Gonchar to Michal Pivonka along the boards. With a defenseman's glove in his face, Pivonka still managed to make the centering pass to Bondra, who came roaring in to Fitzpatrick's left for a 1-1 tie.
The game was delayed with 7:52 to play when sticks flew during a face off and Bondra caught linesman Conrad Hache in the shin and Stu Barnes' blade sliced into his nose.
Hache left the ice momentarily, but returned for the next face off, and at 7:19, the Panthers were on their way to a 2-1 lead. With Caps defenseman Jim Johnson blanketing Niedermayer, Niedermayer was still able to get a pass away from defenseman Svehla inside the blue line. Caps defenseman Joe Reekie saw Svehla wind up and tried to make a sliding block. But the puck continued its path toward the net, where a crowd jostled Carey, who had come out to try to cut down the angle, and the puck slithered through into the net.
It was two goals on four shots for Florida.
Florida's third goal came with 1:25 left, when Niedermayer, pushed out to the boards by defenseman Sylvain Cote, got off a shot that hit the inside of Carey's left knee and rebounded into the net.
And it was three goals on five shots.
While the Panthers were held to three shots in the second period and did not score, the Capitals were a study in frustration. That became evident when, with 4:05 left in the period and the Capitals on a power play, Juneau dumped the puck from the blue line.
They had four power-play opportunities in the period and got nothing. Until the last of the four, they barely got a shot and wound up with seven shots in the period.
NOTES: Anyone buying a $10 ticket for the Topps NHL SuperSkills contest Nov. 12, will be given a free ticket to a future Capitals game. . . . Juneau was honored before the game as Washington's player of the month of October with 10 points in 10 games.
Opponent: New York Islanders
Site: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV/Radio: Channel 50/WQSI (820 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Outlook: The Capitals and Islanders will be playing their second game in two nights. Washington was home to Florida last night, and the Islanders lost 5-3 at Tampa Bay. Washington C Pat Peake (thyroid cartilage) and Kevin Kaminski (ribs) are out. New York D Scott LaChance (groin) and RW Patrick Flatley (groin) are day-to-day, and D Darius Kasparaitis (knee), D Rich Pilon (wrist) and RW Brad Dalgarno (wrist) are out.