GAME: Washington Capitals (19-34-8-2) at Florida Panthers (23-25-13-3).
TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
This latest surge by the Florida Panthers has red-hot goaltender Roberto
Luongo thinking about the playoffs. He can also start thinking about the Vezina
Luongo looks to lead the Panthers to their first six-game unbeaten streak in
more than six years when the Washington Capitals visit the Office Depot Center.
Luongo recorded his third shutout in four games and Juraj Kolnik had two
goals and an assist, leading Florida to a 4-0 victory over visiting Toronto on
Matt Cullen and Niklas Hagman also scored for the Panthers, 3-0-2 in their
last five and 6-3-2 this month.
A win or tie Friday would give Florida its first six-game unbeaten streak
since a 3-0-3 run from Dec. 26-Jan. 4, 1998.
"This is the best we've played all year," Luongo said. "It's nice to be
in this situation this late in the year. It's the first time for me that we're
still in it this late in the season. I'm still trying to make the playoffs."
No goalie in the league is currently playing better than Luongo, who has
stopped 138 of 140 shots while posting a 0.49 goals-against average in the past
four games. His sixth shutout of the season tied his own franchise record set
"I'm feeling great right now and the guys are playing great in front of
me," Luongo said. "That makes my job a lot easier. We have to keep going."
Panthers general manager Rick Dudley believes Luongo has a legitimate chance
to win the Vezina - awarded to the league's top goalie.
"I think he'll win it," Dudley said. "If you asked the other 29 GMs if
they could have one goaltender to put on their roster, I'd bet a lot of money
most would say Roberto Luongo."
If the Panthers are going to make a run at the playoffs, now is the time.
Upcoming opponents include two matchups with Washington and one with Chicago -
two of the league's worst teams.
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, rumors are intensifying
that the Capitals will continue their salary purge by dealing Sergei Gonchar -
the NHL scoring leader among defensemen with 49 points.
Washington lost its second straight Wednesday, falling 2-1 to visiting
Carolina and managing only five shots on goal in the first 38 minutes.
"It's not acceptable," Washington's Jeff Halpern said. "We're a little
limited in some areas. We have a tough time generating a lot of shots."
One of the few bright spots for the Capitals this season has been the play
of center Robert Lang, the NHL leader with 74 points.
Lang scored his 29th goal of the season Wednesday, giving him six goals and
10 assists during a 13-game point streak.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 25): Capitals - 48 points, 5th place, 30 PB,
Southeast Division. Panthers - 62 points, 2nd place, 16 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Capitals - Lang, 29 goals, 45 assists and 74 points; Jason
Doig, 103 PIM. Panthers - Olli Jokinen, 18 goals; Valeri Bure, 23 assists and
40 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 119 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 25): Capitals - Power play: 19.6 percent (52 for
265), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (247 for 302), 24th. Panthers -
Power play: 15.7 percent (36 for 229), 18th. Penalty killing: 85.8 percent (242
for 282), 3rd.
GOALTENDERS: Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (16-29-7, 2 SO, 2.89 GAA); Sebastien
Charpentier (0-2-0, 3.18). Panthers - Luongo (20-25-12, 6, 2.24); Steve Shields
SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 2-0-2.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 21; 2-2 tie. At Washington, Lang scored late in the
second period and set up Gonchar's tying goal at 7:10 of the third.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Capitals - 9-18-3-1 on the road; Panthers - 13-9-6-2 at