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Ovi expects to play as Caps welcome in Panthers

by Brian Hunter
PANTHERS (18-19-2) at CAPITALS (23-12-6)


Last 10:
Florida 5-3-2; Washington 5-2-3

Season series:
Second of six meetings between these Southeast Division rivals and the beginning of a home-and-home series that concludes Tuesday in Sunrise, Fla. The previous matchup was also in Washington on Dec. 9, and Florida came away with a 3-0 victory on the strength of a 36-save performance by Tomas Vokoun.

Big story: One of the NHL's superstars is temporarily out of action -- will another be joining him? It doesn't sound as if Alex Ovechkin is about to join Sidney Crosby on the injury report, although The Great Eight did receive a cortisone shot recently and was limited in practice on Thursday. Ovechkin, who has only 14 goals, has been spotted on television broadcasts rolling his left wrist while sitting at the bench during games at different points this season.

"Yeah, I'm going to be OK," Ovechkin said, adding coach Bruce Boudreau "just gave me some skating, so no puck handling or nothing. He just told me to be here and relax and be ready for Saturday."

Team Scope:

Panthers: It will be interesting to see how Florida comes out in this one after an extremely difficult loss Friday. The Panthers hosted the Hurricanes in the type of game where the four-point swing is really felt because the teams entered just four points apart in the standings, both trying to get back in the playoff hunt. The first of two Marty Reasoner goals gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead after one period, but Carolina stormed back to score the next five and hand Florida a 5-3 defeat.

"We came out with the right attitude. We were prepared," coach Pete DeBoer said. "The first period was fantastic. There wasn't any change of mindset or anything else. We just hit a little bit of a fatigue wall and started making some mental mistakes."

Capitals: In its first game since a riveting win over rival Pittsburgh in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, another nail-biter was in order for Washington when it hosted rival Tampa Bay on Tuesday in a battle for first in the Southeast. The Capitals have owned the Lightning in recent years, but the addition of Dwayne Roloson has strengthened the Bolts in net, and on this night he matched Semyon Varlamov save for save until Martin St. Louis struck in overtime to hand the Caps a 1-0 defeat.

"I think we played well defensively as a group tonight," forward Matt Hendricks said. "I don't think our legs were there to get in on the forecheck and do the little things necessary to put pucks in the back of the net. But defensively I thought we played well."

Who's hot:
Chris Higgins has 5 goals and 2 assists over his last seven games for the Panthers. … Varlamov is 3-0-2 over his last five starts for the Capitals, allowing only six goals over that span.

Injury report:
Washington forwards DJ King (undisclosed), Boyd Gordon (lower body) and Matt Bradley (broken finger) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: The Panthers have scored on just 9.1 percent of their power plays this season, last in the League, though Reasoner's second goal Friday came one second after a penalty on the Hurricanes expired. … Prior to Tuesday, the Capitals hadn't had a scoreless game go into overtime since they played to a 0-0 tie with the Senators on April 5, 2002.

Puck drop:
Perhaps facing Washington will bring out the best in Florida's game as it did last month. That certainly isn't the case with Carolina, which rallied from a three-goal deficit to win and a two-goal deficit to force overtime in its previous two games against the Panthers prior to Friday.

"Up 2-0, we should have taken control," defenseman Bryan Allen said. "Carolina does it time and time again against us."

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