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Capitals score early, often in rout of Panthers

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Four goals in first eight minutes for Washington

There were still 58 minutes of hockey left to play, and it was only a single goal. But when defenseman John Erskine is shooting from just inside the blue line and the puck goes in anyway, it figures to be your night.

So it was for the Capitals on Thursday evening at Verizon Center, where they thrashed the Florida Panthers 7-1 in a game that was all but over in less than nine minutes. Erskine scored 1:58 into it, a wraparound attempt by Wojtek Wolski slipped under the pads of rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom a little more than a minute later and the rout was underway.

Two shots, two goals in 3:10 and Markstrom quickly found himself sitting on the bench. But veteran backup goalie Scott Clemmensen didn't fare much better. He allowed goals to defenseman John Carlson and then center Mike Ribeiro. At the 8:10 mark, after just eight shots, Washington was up 4-0 on the shell-shocked Panthers, who were playing without seven regulars.

Realignment gets OK
The NHL Players' Association gave its official consent Thursday to the league's realignment plan for the 2013-14 season. The plan, which would create four divisions instead of the current six, now needs approval only from the NHL's Board of Governors to take effect, according to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. The reported plan would place the Capitals in a division with former Patrick Division rivals Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders. Carolina and Columbus also would join. - Brian McNally

"We talked about [Florida's injuries], but we know they went into Winnipeg the other night with injuries, too, and they walked all over Winnipeg," Erskine said. "We were ready for them."

It was the second-fastest four goals scored by the Caps in a game. The only time they have done better, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is Jan. 21, 1986, when they scored four against the Minnesota North Stars in just 6:49. Eleven different Washington players recorded a point.

The victory kept the Caps (10-11-1, 21 standings points) out of last place in the Eastern Conference. It was also their third consecutive win and their best performance yet in a stretch of games that has seen them go 8-3 since Feb. 9.

Markstrom helped get things started. Erskine found himself with time to shoot as he crossed into the offensive zone and sent a routine shot at the net. He couldn't have expected Markstrom wouldn't glove it cleanly and have it bounce over his shoulder and into the net instead. The Panthers might have shaken that one off, but just 72 seconds later Wolski came clean around the net and stuffed a puck through. It was his second goal in as many games after a 10-game pointless streak.

A borderline hit by Florida defenseman Tyson Strachan on Caps forward Jason Chimera led to the fifth goal. Alex Ovechkin scored 20 seconds into the five-minute major penalty at 9:17 of the second period. Chimera was knocked to the ice for a time but returned to the game. Strachan was ejected.

"I don't know if we had the best two first shifts that we wanted, but we were able to get that [first] goal," Ribeiro said. "And then we just kept rolling from there."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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