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Capitals-Panthers Preview

by Eric Goodman

CAPITALS (27-12-6) at PANTHERS (18-20-7)

Last 10 -- Washington 6-4-0; Florida 4-6-0

Season series -- It's the fourth of six regular-season meetings between the two Southeast Division rivals. Washington won the three previous games, including two at VerizonCenter and one at BankAtlantic Center.

Big story -- The Caps have absolutely dominated the Southeast Division this season, going 9-2-0 thus far, against Florida, TampaBay, Atlanta and Carolina -- despite Tuesday's 7-4 loss at Tampa. A win on Wednesday night would be Washington's fourth straight over the Panthers -- they've won the first three despite not having Alex Ovechkin for any of them.

Team Scope:

Capitals -- The Caps have struggled in the first period in each of their last two games, and it caught up to them against the Lightning. Tampa Bay rang up four first-period goals, and even though Washington got even in the second period before Tampa Bay went on to score three more goals in its 7-4 win, Washington's players and coaches cited the first-period struggles as the reason for the loss.

"The last two games, we haven't been ready to play," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's got to be my fault. These guys have to be ready to play."

Ovechkin said simply, "We were not ready. We tried to be too casual, too cute, and it cost us four goals."

Panthers -- Florida hasn't had much to get excited about for most of the season, but they were happy to grab a 3-0 victory over the injury-depleted Ottawa Senators on Saturday. The Panthers will need to continue picking up the pace as they have four teams to jump over before getting back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. However, they do realize that capitalizing on situations like they did in Ottawa is the only way to make up ground in a tightly packed race.

"We knew they were missing key people," goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "We knew we had to take advantage and I think we did."

Who's hot -- Ovechkin had two assists in Tampa and is 1-5-6 in his last three games. Defenseman Mike Green has a five-game points streak and scored twice against the Lightning. Alexander Semin has 5 goals and 7 points in his last four games. … Panthers' right wing Nathan Horton now has six points over his last five games, including the game-winning goal at Ottawa.

Injury report -- Caps defenseman John Erskine left Saturday's game with Atlanta early in the third period and did not return. He sat out Tuesday and is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury. For the Panthers, forwards Kenndal McArdle (shoulder) and David Booth (concussion) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) are still out, but all skated at practice on Monday.

Stat pack -- Washington had outscored its opponents 54-25 during the first period this season before being outscored 4-1 at Tampa Bay. … The Panthers have been outscored 17-7 by Washington despite the fact that Ovi missed two games with an injury and one with a suspension. He scored 9 goals in 14 games against Florida in the previous two seasons

Puck drop -- "We have about 15 games left until the Olympic break and we have to put ourselves in a position for a playoff spot by then," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said after Monday's practice. "But we can't be picky. We need to win as many games as we can, whether it's against the Atlanta Thrashers or Washington Capitals."
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