PANTHERS (11-12-4) at CAPITALS (16-5-6)
Last 10 - Florida 4-3-3; Washington 6-2-2
Season series - It's the third of six meetings this season between the Southeast Division rivals. Washington swept a home-and-home series with the Panthers on Nov. 6-7, winning 4-1 at Florida and 7-4 at Washington - a game in which the Caps scored five times in the third period.
Big story - The Capitals are playing the first of two games without their big gun, Alex Ovechkin, who was suspended for two games for a knee-to-knee collision with Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason on Monday. He'll also have to sit out Saturday's game at Philadelphia but will be able to return Monday against TampaBay. He was also injured on the play.
The Panthers had to work a little extra on Wednesday before ending their five-game losing streak. Florida blew a 5-3 lead in the final minute before Stephen Weiss tacked on a shootout goal to go with his hat trick in regulation to give Florida a 6-5 win over Colorado.
Panthers - Weiss' shootout goal not only capped a big night for him individually, but it saved the Panthers from what would have been a brutal loss.
"We have to relax and play with confidence. We're a good hockey team. We had three two-goal leads, so we must be doing something right," Weiss said. "We have to finish it off.
"We're all good players. We're all here for a reason. We just have to believe that it's going to turn out the right way. We have to play with the puck, not worry about what the score is or how much time is left in the game."
Capitals - The depth of the Capitals' organization is keeping them on top of the Southeast Division and near the top of the Eastern Conference. Despite a rash of injuries that has included Ovechkin and Alexander Semin up front and defensemen Tom Poti and Shoane Morrisonn (both upper-body), the Caps have kept on winning.
Washington survived Ovechkin's six-game absence last month due to injury, and center Nicklas Backstrom feels they'll be able to do it again.
"When the best player goes out, it's a challenge for the other guys,'' he said.
Who's hot - Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov is enjoying a terrific first regular season with a 10-1-2 record, a 2.39 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He's 5-0-2 in his last seven starts, allowing only 12 goals in that span. … Weiss has 7 points during a four-game streak, and Nathan Horton is 4-9-13 in his last 11 games.
Injury report - Florida is still without Kenndal McArdle (shoulder), David Booth (concussion) and Cory Stillman (knee). Goalie Tomas Vokoun, whacked by the stick of teammate Keith Ballard on Monday, didn't dress against the Avs. … Still on injured reserve for Washington are Semin (wrist) and fellow forwards Mike Knuble (broken finger), Boyd Gordon (back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw). Morrisonn and Poti are day-to-day.
Stat pack - Washington's Dave Steckel doesn't score much (no goals in 26 games this season), but he's a wizard in the faceoff circle. He has won 62.5 percent of his faceoffs - including 14 of 15 in Monday's win over Carolina. … Florida's three power-play goals against Colorado were the most by the Panthers in a game this season. They had scored just 14 PPGs in the first two months of the season.
Puck drop - The Capitals didn't have Ovechkin when they swept the home-and-home series from Florida last month. They've learned how to cope in his absence. The Panthers will try to build off their shootout win over Colorado, but it won't be easy - especially if Vokoun sits again.