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Countdown 12: No. 4 Game; February 1 vs Washington

by Andrew Imber / Florida Panthers

Washington forward Alex Ovechkin and defenseman Mike Weaver fight for the puck in a game last season at the BankAtlantic Center. Florida went 3-2-1 against the Capitals last season. (Getty Images)

In today's topic, we take a closer look at the game against the Washington Capitals on February 1st in the Top 5 Games this season.

Although the February 1st game will be the third meeting between the Capitals and Panthers in the 2011-12 NHL regular season, it will mark the first game for Florida after the All-Star break. That game really starts the stretch run towards their postseason goal as there will be 34 games remaining on the docket with just over two months to play them. It will be a chance to start that push on the right foot by taking down what many perceive as the Southeast Division favorites.

For the Capitals, the act is wearing thin. Dominant regular seasons followed up by playoff failures are taking a toll on players and fans alike, as they all chase the same dream: the Stanley Cup.

During the offseason, Washington set out to make sure a young core had veteran leadership. They accomplished just that, bringing in playoff hero Joel Ward (seven goals, 6 assists in 12 games), former Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun (.920 or better save percentage in last three seasons), and defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who is entering his 19th year of service in the NHL. That was added to a roster that is already filled with all-world talent.

The Panthers will have to also contain “The Great Eight,” Alex Ovechkin (32 goals, 53 assists last season), Nicklas Backstrom (18 goals, 47 assists last season), and Alex Semin (28 goals, 26 assists last season) up front. Joining Hamrlik on the back end are offensive dynamo Mike Green (19 goals, 57 assists two seasons ago), Dennis Wideman (10 goals, 30 assists last season), and young up-and-comers John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Between the pipes, Michal Neuvirth will provide solid goaltending whenever Vokoun needs a rest. 

As the Panthers make the climb up through the tough Southeast Division, the Capitals will be perhaps the largest obstacle in the way. After posting a 3-2-1 mark last season against the boys from D.C., Florida looks ready for the challenge.

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