Panthers host Caps with first place on the line
Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 2:22 AM
NHL.comCAPITALS (26-19-4) at PANTHERS (22-15-11)
: CSN-MA+, FS-Florida
: Washington 5-3-2; Florida 3-3-4.
: This is the third of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals, who square off three times in the first two-and-a-half weeks of February. The clubs have split the first two encounters, with the home team winning each time. On Oct. 18 at Washington, Tomas Vokoun made 20 saves to blank his former team, as the Capitals shut out the Panthers 3-0. On Dec. 5 in Sunrise, Stephen Weiss
notched two goals and an assist to help the Cats build a 5-1 lead midway through the game, and they withstood a late rally by Washington to claim a 5-4 victory.
: The Capitals now lead Florida by one point for first place in the Southeast following their 4-3 overtime loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The Panthers, who have one game in hand over the Caps, can regain the top spot with a regulation win as they take the ice for the first time in eight days.
: Since Dec. 26, the Capitals have gone 9-4-2 to surge to the top of the division. They have taken three of four points in their last two games while playing without Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green -- both out with injuries -- as well as the suspended Alex Ovechkin. In the first of back-to-back games in the Sunshine State on Tuesday, the Caps overcame a 3-1 deficit to force OT and earn a point on goals by Mathieu Perreault and Troy Brouwer. However, Steven Stamkos scored his League-leading 33rd goal 2:45 into the extra session to give the Lightning a 4-3 win. Stamkos matched a season-high with eight shots, though Vokoun managed to stop all of them until he tapped in a rebound for the game-winner.
"He played his heart out tonight," Brouwer said of Vokoun, who finished with 27 stops. "He played real well, but unfortunately, we couldn't get him a second point."
Wednesday's game is the middle contest of a three-game road trip for Capitals, who will aim to improve their lackluster 8-13-3 road record as they play seven of their next 11 as the visitors.
: The Panthers, who now sit in 9th in the East after Tuesday's action, look to return to form after posting just one regulation victory and two wins overall out of nine games in January. They closed out the abbreviated month on Jan. 24 with a 3-2 shootout loss at home to Philadelphia. Mikael Samuelsson
and Tomas Fleischmann
scored for the Cats, who have lost five of six and 11 of 15 (4-6-5).
Going into the All-Star break, Florida had been tied with Washington with 55 points, but was technically in second place because the Caps had more wins. It would have been only the second time in franchise history that the Panthers led their division at the break. The last time they did so was in 1999-2000, which was also the last season they made the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Cats’ play in their first 48 games still has them in the thick of the playoff hunt.
"We've earned that right to be where we're at," said goalie Scott Clemmensen
, who stopped 35 of 37 shots in the loss to the Flyers. "That puts us in a good position coming out of the break for that big playoff push. We expect to make the playoffs, without a doubt."
: The Panthers have relied on the services of Stephen Weiss
, who has points in three of his past five outings, including 2 assists in the last game before the break. … Perreault has 4 goals and 6 points in his past three games, including his first career hat trick in a win over Boston on Jan. 24.
: Ovechkin will sit out the final match of his-three game suspension before being eligible to return to action Saturday in Montreal. The Caps will also continue to be without Backstrom (concussion), Green (abdominal surgery) and Tom Poti (groin). … For Florida, Dmitry Kulikov
had knee surgery on Jan. 24 and will be out 4-6 weeks. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski
(hand surgery) and forward Jack Skille
(shoulder) remain sidelined. Marco Sturm
, who was hit in the head with a puck while sitting on the bench during a game on Dec. 20, has been skating with the team and will likely return this week -- possibly as soon as Tuesday's game. Kris Versteeg
is probable to play after missing Monday’s practice with an undisclosed illness, according to the Miami Herald.
: Washington went 0-for-3 on the power play against the Bolts, extending its slump to 1-for-19 with the man advantage. … In games that go past regulation, the Panthers are 4-11, the most overtime/shootout losses in the League.
: Last Tuesday's game against the Bruins marked the first time the Capitals had played a game without at least one of their "Big Three" -- Ovechkin, Green and Backstrom -- since they were drafted (Ovechkin and Green in 2004 and Backstrom in 2006).