After concluding February as two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers are out to continue their success in the new month.
The Southeast Division rivals open the March portion of their schedule Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
With a 9-3-1 record, Washington (40-18-5) collected a conference-best 19 points in February. Meanwhile, Florida (31-23-8) finished tied with New Jersey and Toronto for second with 16 points, winning eight of 13 contests last month.
But the Capitals gained four points at the expense of the Panthers, strengthening their lead atop the Southeast to 15 points over Florida with a 3-1 victory at home on Feb. 7 and a 4-2 win at the BankAtlantic Center on Feb. 15. Washington has won six of its last eight against Florida, including three of four in the nation's capital.
Washington has won two in a row and three of its last four, most recently 4-3 in overtime at East-leading Boston on Saturday. Alexander Semin's 80-foot slap shot 22 seconds into the extra period was his 24th goal for the Capitals, who are just eight points behind the Bruins.
"We still have 19 games so anything can happen," said Alexander Ovechkin, who is second in the NHL with 81 points after scoring his league-best 45th goal. "I think it's all about us. If we play our game and our system we can beat everybody."
That's been true at the Verizon Center, where the Capitals have won seven of their last 10 to push the league's second-best home record to 25-6-1.
Florida, meanwhile, is 3-4-0 in its last seven, and fell to 1-2-0 on its current five-game road trip after a 7-2 loss at New Jersey on Saturday. It was the team's second five-goal defeat on the road swing after a 6-1 loss at Boston on Tuesday night.
The Panthers are seventh in the tightly packed East with 70 points, one more than Buffalo and Carolina - tied for eighth - and two behind the sixth-place New York Rangers. They haven't reached the postseason since 2000.
"We're a team that has to work for everything we get," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "When we're off a little bit, we get beat, especially when we are playing against very good teams."
Florida has allowed 14 goals in its last three contests behind Craig Anderson, who made 39 saves Saturday in place of Tomas Vokoun (ear infection).
Vokoun's status is unclear for Sunday, and Anderson is 1-3-0 with a 2.76 goals-against average in four career starts against the Capitals, stopping 23 shots in a 5-3 road win on Dec. 2.
One of them will be trying to contain three of the Capitals' hottest scorers, led by Ovechkin, who has 15 goals and eight assists in his last 16 overall.
He also has 15 goals and 33 points in 27 lifetime contests against the Panthers and recorded his career eighth hat trick in the latest matchup.
Nicklas Backstrom has four goals and eight assists during a career high-tying nine-game point streak, while defenseman Mike Green has 11 goals and 12 assists in 15 contests since the All-Star break.
Jose Theodore has been in net versus the Panthers all three games, compiling a 2.34 GAA. It's unknown if he'll start this game, but improved to 6-3-1 in his last 10 games after making 34 saves versus Boston.