Before Thursday night's matchup with the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals discussed the importance of finding a way to win.
That's because the Caps have ground to make up. With 23 games remaining, Washington is in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.
Despite blowing two two-goal leads, Washington captain Alex Ovechkin scored the winner with 4:17 remaining in the first game back from the Olympic break to give the Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Panthers in front of 14,180 at BB&T Center.
"I think we played a good game, but again a couple mistakes, couple of turnovers almost cost us points," said Ovechkin, who had three points. "It was good we bounced back and finished."
Ovechkin's 41st goal of the season came on a one-timer from center Brooks Laich after a turnover in the Florida zone. Center Nicklas Backstrom also picked up an assist. The trio combined for nine points.
The Capitals (28-23-9), winners of four of their last five, captured a 2-0 lead in the first period with goals less than three minutes apart.
Defenseman John Carlson took a shot in front of the blue line and Backstrom deflected it. Right winger Troy Brouwer beat defenseman Erik Gudbranson to the loose puck for his 15th goal of the season 5:48 into the period.
After defenseman Dmitry Orlov caused a turnover near center ice, Ovechkin fed a pass to Laich, who one-timed it past goaltender Tim Thomas' glove side at 8:10.
The Panthers (22-30-7) trimmed the deficit to 2-1 with 4:33 left in the period on left winger Tomas Fleischmann's sixth goal of the season.
Center Marcel Goc cleared the puck, and its bounces gave Orlov trouble in front of the blue line. Center Jesse Winchester stole it and sent a one-timer to Fleischmann for his first goal in 23 games.
Florida evened it at 2 just 40 seconds into the second period on right winger Brad Boyes' 16th goal of the season on an assist from left winger Sean Bergenheim.
Boyes chased down the puck for a turnover in the Washington zone and went behind the net. Bergenheim received his pass and shot at the net. The rebound went to Boyes, who backhanded it in.
"The guys showed huge character to fight back after being down," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "It's frustrating. I like the attitude about work and the character to fight back into it, but you can't win games that way. You can't win games by playing turnover hockey."
The Capitals regained the lead two minutes later on Backstrom's 12th goal of the season.
Right winger Martin Erat crossed the puck, which deflected off defenseman Ed Jovanovski's skate, directly to Backstrom near the crease. Carlson collected his second assist of the night on the play.
Brouwer extended the lead to two with his second power-play goal of the game with 46.3 seconds remaining in the second, putting in a rebound off Ovechkin's one-timer from Backstrom.
Washington is now 49 for 219 (22.4 percent) on the power play. It entered the game tied for fourth in NHL. The Capitals improved to 11-2-1 this season when scoring two or more power-play goals in a game.
"For me, it was two goals standing right in front," said Brouwer, who has six goals in his last five games. "That's where I need to be successful. That's where they expect me to be. I've gotten away from it at times over the course of the season and gotten into slumps as a result of it."
But the Capitals made four trips to the penalty box in the third period -- beginning with goaltender Braden Holtby's delay of game. It proved costly as the Panthers mounted another rally.
With 11:47 left in regulation, right winger Jimmy Hayes deflected left winger Scottie Upshall's shot for a power-play goal -- his fifth of the season. Defenseman Brian Campbell also had an assist.
Less than two minutes later, Boyes knotted it at 4 when his initial shot bounced off the stick of defenseman Mike Green and back to him for his second goal of the night. Center Nick Bjugstad had led the 2-on-2 rush.
"Throughout the season, we've had games where we've done that, come back, play well in the third," said Boyes, who notched his first multi-goal game since Oct. 11, 2013. "We talk a lot about 60 minutes. That wasn't a 60-minute game. The resilience was there, just too many times we give teams, give opportunities to them."
Green almost scored the winning goal seconds before Ovechkin's when he exited the penalty box and went on a breakaway. Thomas fell on his backside but stopped Green's shot with his glove.
The Capitals took the season series 2-1 and are now 9-1-1 against the Panthers in their last 11 meetings. Florida dropped to 11-11-7 in one-goal games.
"We have a lot of veteran guys," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "They know where we made the mistakes and we can clean that up."
NOTES: Capitals D Mike Green, out since Jan. 30 with a concussion, started Thursday. ... C Mikhail Grabovski, who sustained an ankle injury Jan. 24, also returned. ... Washington recalled D Julien Brouillette and C Nicolas Deschamps from AHL Hershey and reassigned D Jack Hillen to Hershey on long-term injury/illness exception conditioning loan. ... Both Panthers representatives at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia -- C Aleksander Barkov (knee) and RW Tomas Kopecky (concussion) -- were placed on the injured reserve list. ... On this date in 2007, former Panthers C Olli Jokinen had his third hat trick of the season in a 6-5 shootout win over Washington. ... PGA golfers Thomas Bjorn and Keegan Bradley, in town for the Honda Classic, were in attendance.