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Caps tune up for playoffs with finale vs. Panthers

by Brian Hunter
CAPITALS (48-22-11) at PANTHERS (29-40-12)


Last 10:
Washington 7-2-1; Florida 0-7-3

Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Southeast Division rivals. Washington has taken four of five, including both previous matchups in Florida via overtime decisions. The Capitals also beat the Panthers 5-2 on Wednesday.

Big story:
Another 60 minutes of regular-season hockey and Washington can begin looking forward to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the Capitals will be the Eastern Conference's top seed for the second year in a row. The most notable thing about this game is the expected return of defenseman Mike Green from a concussion. Green has played only two games since Feb. 6.

Team Scope:

Capitals: An overtime loss by Philadelphia in Buffalo on Friday clinched first in the East for Washington, which will enjoy home ice for at least the first three rounds -- that is, assuming the Capitals can get there. They lost a seven-game series to the Penguins in the East semifinals in 2009 and were upset by the eighth-seeded Canadiens in the first round last season. For now they'll just try to end the season on a high note after connecting on a pair of power-play goals to spark their previous win over the Panthers.

"You knew we were going to score goals in the power play; it's just a matter of time, so we've just got to keep it rolling," said Jason Chimera, who lit the lamp with the man advantage, as did Mike Knuble.

Panthers: Not only will Florida's playoff drought extend to 10 straight seasons, the Panthers are guaranteed to finish last in the East after Friday's 4-2 loss to the Lightning. All that's left before the players head their separate ways for the offseason is to try to prevent an 11th straight loss to end the campaign. Mike Santorelli provided the bright spots against the Bolts, scoring his 20th goal of the season and assisting on a score by Jason Garrison.

"I think our mindset was just to come in and work hard," Santorelli said. "There is a lot to improve on, and our goal is to get better and better."

Who's hot: Alex Ovechkin is heating up at a good time, with goals in three straight games and 8 points during a four-game streak for the Capitals. Knuble has 4 goals in as many games. Brooks Laich has 7 assists in his last five games, while Nicklas Backstrom has 6 assists in his last four games. … Santorelli has goals in consecutive games for the Panthers.

Injury report: Washington forwards Alexander Semin (wrist) and Jason Arnott (undisclosed) and defenseman Scott Hannan (defenseman) are all day-to-day and likely to be rested with the team having clinched. Defenseman Dennis Wideman (leg) is out indefinitely and defenseman Tom Poti (groin) is on injured reserve. … Florida forward Stephen Weiss missed Friday's game with a groin injury. Goalie Tomas Vokoun hasn't played since leaving a March 27 game against Pittsburgh due to back spasms, though he has been dressing as Scott Clemmensen's backup.

Stat pack: The Captials sit in the middle of the pack in the NHL with a 17.6-percent power-play efficiency rate, but they're 5-for-9 over the last three games. … Santorelli leads the Panthers with 4 goals in the season series. Weiss has 7 points, all assists.

Puck drop: Knuble feels Washington needs to follow the blueprint of how it was able to beat Clemmensen four times on Wednesday (Ovechkin added an empty-net goal).

"That's how we're going to score in the playoffs -- around the net," he told the Washington Post. "For me, I'm happy it's April and not December. Things are coming my way now. If you're going to be hot, I would rather it be this time of year."

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