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Capitals will have reinforcements vs. Panthers

by Brian Hunter

CAPITALS (27-23-9) at PANTHERS (22-29-7)


Last 10: Washington 5-4-1; Florida 4-6-0

Season series: This is the third and final game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers. Each team has recorded a 3-2 shootout win on its home ice. Brooks Laich provided the decisive goal for the Capitals on Nov. 2, and Tomas Kopecky returned the favor for the Panthers on Dec. 13.

Big story: The Capitals will be getting reinforcements just in time for the stretch run. Defenseman Mike Green, out since Jan. 30 with a concussion, and forward Mikhail Grabovski, who last played Jan. 24 before suffering an ankle injury, were both cleared in the past week and will be in the lineup.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Three wins in four games prior to the Olympic break helped Washington recover somewhat from a difficult January that featured a seven-game losing streak. Still, the Capitals have some work to do over their final 23 games, sitting fifth in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

"For us, we've just got to find ways to collect points and win games," forward Joel Ward said. "We're all grown men in here. We know how to win games, we've just got to execute and do it."

Forward Marcus Johansson, who played for Sweden at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was delayed in returning to the team due to a visa issue, but arrived in South Florida on Wednesday night and joined the team at practice Thursday morning. Forward Nicolas Deschamps was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League in case Johansson, a game-time decision, isn't feeling well enough to go.

Panthers: Life hasn't gotten any easier for Florida, which resumes play without Kopecky and top 2013 draft pick Aleksander Barkov, each of whom suffered serious injury playing for his respective country in Sochi. Kopecky suffered a concussion playing for Slovakia in a game against Slovenia, while Barkov sustained a knee injury in a game for Finland against Norway.

One player who will have the opportunity to open eyes down the stretch is rookie Nick Bjugstad, who took Barkov's place on the top line at practice this week, centering Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim. Bjugstad has 13 goals and 23 points this season and is third among rookies in faceoff wins.

"There's been unexpected things this season, both good and bad,'' Bjugstad said in the Florida Sun-Sentinel. "It's tough to see [Barkov] go out, he's been a great player for us so we have to bounce back and use our depth. Guys will be taking new roles and will have to step up.''

Who's hot: Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has had an up-and-down season, but he had two shutouts in five starts prior to the break. He stopped all 25 shots he faced against the New Jersey Devils in his most recent start, Feb. 8. … Panthers forward and leading scorer Scottie Upshall has three goals and three assists in his past eight games.

Injury report: Washington forward Aaron Volpatti (upper body) practiced this week but remains on long-term injured reserve. Defenseman Jack Hillen (leg), who had been loaned to Hershey on a conditioning assignment, was also at practice Wednesday. … Barkov (knee) and Kopecky (concussion) are on injured reserve for Florida.

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