-- After his team's practice Monday, Washington Capitals
coach Dale Hunter
said Tuesday's night game against the Florida Panthers
was going to be "a playoff game."
After his team's morning skate Tuesday, Hunter made the same statement. It may have seemed incredibly unlikely six months ago, but the Panthers and Capitals will battle at Verizon Center in early February and first place in the Southeast Division will be on the line.
"I've got a veteran lineup. I've got guys that can count and read the paper," Florida coach Kevin Dineen
said. "They know what the deal is. It's very simple. You look at our situation and we can talk and we can build up about tonight's game, but it is going to be the same thing Thursday and the same thing Saturday and Sunday. We're in a situation where every game has a large level of importance."
The Panthers have a one-point lead on the Capitals, and Florida also has a game in hand. They have also had an extra day to rest, with Washington losing Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center to Boston.
Washington has a collection of banners in this building to signify its dominance over the rest of the Southeast in the past four years. Florida hasn't made a postseason appearance since defenseman Erik Gudbranson
was 8 years old.