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Capitals-Panthers Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Washington Capitals (22-37-8) at Florida Panthers (29-30-9).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST.

With six wins in their last seven games, the Florida Panthers hope to continue working their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff race as they host the struggling Washington Capitals.

Despite being near the bottom of the East standings for much of the season, Florida heads into its final 14 games with an outside shot to make the postseason.

A big reason the Panthers have such an opportunity is because they have been finding the net more regularly, scoring 28 goals during its seven-game surge. Only in a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia on March 15 have the Panthers failed to score at least four goals in that stretch.

The Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-5 on Monday night when Olli Jokinen beat Lightning goaltender Gerard Coleman on a breakaway with 1:44 left in overtime. It was the eighth game-winning goal of the season for Jokinen, who also had two assists.

Jokinen leads the Panthers with 75 points, including six goals and seven assists over the last eight games.

Florida led 5-1 going into the final 20 minutes Monday, but four Tampa Bay goals in the first 12 minutes of the period forced overtime.

"Last time I checked, we're in the entertainment business," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said after the exciting finish produced Florida's fourth win in five games against its in-state rival.

The Panthers have matched a season high by winning three straight, and now seek their longest win streak since a four-game run from Feb. 10-19, 2001.

It seems Florida has a good shot at doing it, considering the opponent it will be hosting on Wednesday.

The Capitals have dropped seven consecutive meetings with the Panthers, including an 0-4-2 mark this season, and lost 4-3 in a shootout against Florida on Saturday.

That defeat is part of Washington's current six-game losing streak.

They have allowed at least four goals in all six losses, including a 4-2 defeat to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. Three Montreal goals in a 2:06 span of the second period were the difference.

"I felt that that was one of the few games that we didn't give a winning effort," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said.

The disappointing performance led Hanlon to sit team scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin for a 14-minute stretch in the latter half of the game.

"It was coach's decision," Ovechkin said. "I'm OK. It was his decision and I'm OK."

Ovechkin did score his 44th goal of the season and has been very productive since returning from the Turin Olympics. The rookie leads the Capitals with eight goals and eight assists in 11 games since the break.

STANDINGS: Capitals - 52 points, 5th place, 44 PB, Southeast Division. Panthers - 67 points, 4th place, 29 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Capitals - Ovechkin, 44 goals, 41 assists and 85 points; Chris Clark, 88 PIM. Panthers - Jokinen, 33 goals, 42 assists and 75 points; Chris Gratton, 92 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Capitals - Power play: 14.4 percent (58 for 403), 28th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.5 percent (358 for 456), 29th. Panthers - Power play: 14.6 percent (50 for 343), 27th. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (351 for 422), 13th.

GOALTENDERS: Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (17-26-8, 0 SO, 3.56 GAA); Brent Johnson (5-10-0, 0, 4.09). Panthers - Roberto Luongo (28-26-9, 4, 2.99); Jamie McLennan (1-4-0, 0, 2.95).

SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 6-0.

LAST MEETING: Saturday; Panthers, 4-3 (SO). At Washington, D.C., Joe Nieuwendyk scored the only goal in the shootout to lead Florida. Clark scored all three goals for the Capitals, including a third-period tally to force overtime.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Capitals - 7-20-2 on the road; Panthers - 20-9-4 at home.

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