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Revived Capitals can continue to push Panthers away

by Corey Masisak

PANTHERS (7-11-5) at CAPITALS (9-11-1)


Last 10: Florida 3-5-2; Washington 7-3-0

Season series: The Capitals won the first two meetings, a 5-0 drubbing Feb. 9 and a come-from-behind 6-5 triumph in overtime three days later. They have won five straight against the Panthers.

Big story: These teams are even at 19 points, but they appear to be headed in opposite directions -- injuries have crippled the Panthers while the Capitals have stabilized after a horrible start.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Florida had won three of four and was starting to dig out from its 1-5-0 start when the Panthers faced back-to-back games against the Capitals. The team and the season hasn't been the same since.

Washington crushed Florida, playing the finale of a four-game road trip, then came back with two goals late in the third period to force overtime and eventually win three days later in Sunrise.

Counting those losses, the Panthers have dropped 10 of 13 and the roster has been decimated by injuries. Replicating their 2011-12 season and Southeast Division championship looks like an ominous proposition, but a win against the Capitals could get them within three points of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

Capitals: Losing nine of the first 11 games of the Adam Oates Era was not exactly the plan in Washington, but the Capitals are starting to look like they might have found their long-lost form. They didn't defeat a team in the top eight of the standings in their first 16 tries this season, but they've claimed three such wins in the past five.

The latest was Tuesday's 4-3 overtime victory after falling behind 3-0 in the first period against the Boston Bruins. Washington has scored at least three goals in all seven victories since that 2-8-1 start. The Capitals have scored 34 goals in the past 10 games, and have moved into the top half of the League in scoring after a dreadful (especially considering the talent and past performance) beginning to the campaign.

Who's hot: Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau has three goals in the past two games. He leads all rookies in goals with 11, four more than Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher. … Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was lit up for 10 goals in the first two games of the season, but since then he's 8-5-0 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. That save percentage is .932 in his past 10 contests.

Injury report: There are eight Panthers on injured reserve: goaltender Jose Theodore, forwards Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Scottie Upshall, and defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Michael Caruso and Dmitry Kulikov. … The Capitals will be without defenseman Mike Green and forward Brooks Laich. Troy Brouwer (illness) is questionable, and defenseman Jack Hillen and Dmitry Orlov remain out.

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