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After getting off to horrible start this season, the Washington Capitals are suddenly in the playoff mix in the crowded Eastern Conference.
The Capitals look to win their third straight game and get back to .500 for the first time in nearly three months when they wrap up a season-high five-game homestand against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
Washington (20-21-5) was an NHL-worst 8-16-2 on Nov. 30, but has recorded the league's sixth-best record since then, going 12-5-3.
The Capitals, who have finished last in the Southeast Division each of the past three seasons and have not been to the playoffs since 2002-03, are four points behind Boston, the Panthers and the New York Rangers, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
A 5-4, 12-round shootout victory over Edmonton on Thursday moved Washington within a game of .500 for the first time since Oct. 24, when they were 4-4-0. Matt Bradley, who had scored twice in regulation all season, converted the lone shootout goal by either club.
"(Bradley) just said, 'I'm going to score, put me out there,' and he jumped over the board and he went in," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He told me, he didn't ask."
Washington is 8-3-0 at the Verizon Center since Dec. 8, after opening the season 3-8-1 there. But the Capitals haven't had much success against the Panthers at home, however, losing nine of the last 11 matchups.
Washington has dropped three of four to Florida this season, including both home meetings.
Alexander Ovechkin scored his 35th goal on Thursday, giving him three and two assists in three games since signing a $124 million, 13-year contract extension on Jan. 10.
Ovechkin, who has been named to his second straight East All-Star team, has two goals and two assists against the Panthers this season, and has 10 goals and 14 assists in 20 career games against them.
Mike Green scored in his third straight game against the Oilers, and has six goals and four assists in seven games this month. Green has had minimal success in 13 career games against Florida, however, recording just one assist.
Starting goaltender Olaf Kolzig is 5-1-0 with a 3.69 goals-against average in his last seven starts, but is expected to get the night off against Florida. Backup Brent Johnson, who is 3-1-0 with a 2.08 GAA in his last five games, is 5-2-1 with a 2.29 GAA and one shutout against the Panthers in his career.
In his only start against them this season on Dec. 1, Johnson stopped 24 shots in a 2-1 victory.
Florida (21-23-4) defeated New Jersey 2-1 on Friday, as coach Jacques Martin became the 10th NHL coach with 500 victories.
"Everybody was working hard tonight and it was good to see a turn for the better," said backup goalie Craig Anderson, who made 31 saves.
Tomas Vokoun, who is 1-7-1 with a 3.34 GAA since Dec. 28, is expected to be back in net, and hopes to get out of his funk against Washington. He has been in goal for each game against the Caps this season, posting a 1.72 GAA. He is 5-4-0 with a 1.77 GAA in nine career starts against them.
The Panthers have not won back-to-back games since winning three in a row from Dec. 16-20.