Florida Panthers Visit Washington Capitals: Game 81 Preview

Florida has another chance to clinch a playoff berth, a division title, and seriously damage the Capitals postseason chances in the process.

The Florida Panthers visit the Washington Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. at 7:00 PM ET. It's the penultimate game for both clubs this season, and the final of six matches this season. The Caps won 3-0 in October, the Panthers followed with a 5-4 victory in December and a 4-2 victory in February. Washington came back with a 4-0 win a week later and a 2-1 victory a week after that. Florida has a 17-16-7 (.513) record on the road, while the Capitals have a 25-11-4 (.675) home record.

Florida is coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to the playoff dead yet somehow resurgent Winnipeg Jets, and finish the regular season at home against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. The magic number for Florida stands at one (over division second place Washington) for the division title. For a playoff berth, the magic number is also one (over the Eastern Conference ninth place Buffalo Sabres). Any game in which Buffalo or Washington does not gain two points guarantees a Panthers playoff berth. Or Florida could simply gain at least one point out of their next two games to finish things off themselves.

Washington is coming off a 4-2 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, and finish up their season on Saturday on the road against the New York Rangers. Their magic number is eight for a division title (over first place Florida) and four (to tie Eastern Conference ninth place Buffalo, as the Caps own the tiebreaker).

In the last game of the series, the Capitals beat the Panthers, 2-1 on February 17th in Sunrise, Florida. Tomas Fleischmann (19) opened up the scoring with less than a minute left in the opening period on an easy cross ice pass from Stephen Weiss for a 1-0 lead. After a scoreless second period, Alex Ovechkin (24) scored on the power play to tie the game five minutes in. Alexander Semin (16) put it away with seven minutes left in regulation. Tomas Vokoun (25-17-2, .917, 2.51) stopped 22-of-23 for the victory, while Jose Theodore (22-15-11, .918, 2.43) made 39-of-41 saves for the loss. Kris Versteeg summed it up afterwards,

"When you have a lead, you try to at least get a point out of it, but we found a way to lose tonight."

Capitals @ Panthers 02/17/12 (via NHLVideo)

In Florida's last action, they lost in an overtime matchup to the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4 in Sunrise on Tuesday. The Panthers got out to an early 3-0 lead on goals by Marco Sturm (3), Kris Versteeg (23), and Tomas Fleischmann in the first period plus 30 seconds. The Jets roared back with four unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead with markers by Evander Kane (30), Zach Bogosian (4), Andrew Ladd (26), and Bryan Little (24). Tomas Kopecky (10) pulled the Cats back even with just under four minutes remaining in regulation, but Andrew Ladd (27) would score his second goal of the evening with around two minutes left in the extra frame. Jose Theodore stopped 25-of-30 shots for the loss, while counterpart Ondrej Pavelec took home the win by stopping 34-of-38. Coach Kevin Dineen lamented the missed opportunity to nail down the playoff berth and a division title afterwards,

"It's hard to express the disappointment," coach Kevin Dineen said. "There's a little bit of shock by all of us. There's a little bit of just surprise that with the game that we had going that we weren't able to sustain that for 60 minutes. Obviously disappointing."

Jets @ Panthers 04/03/12 (via NHLVideo)

The Caps dropped a 4-2 road matchup to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. After Alexander Semin (20) opened the scoring just over halfway into the second period, the Bolts came back when Teddy Purcell (21) and Victor Hedman (5) scored just 25 seconds apart near the end of the period. Jason Chimera (20) would pull the Caps back into a tie with just over three minutes left, but Steven Stamkos (57, 58) broke the tie with a minute remaining and capped it with an empty netter just two seconds before the end of the third. Dwayne Roloson stopped 31-of-33 shots for the Lightning victory, while Michal Neuvirth allowed three goals on 26 shots for the loss. Jason Chimera addressed the media afterwards about the possibility of missing the playoffs,

"We're fighting for our playoff lives, so it's not that hard to bounce back," added Chimera. "It means a lot playing for something this time of year. You want to play in the playoffs. Ask any player what's the worst day -- it's sitting home watching playoffs the first day of playoffs. You want to be in those playoffs. You want to be in the hot seat."

Capitals @ Lightning 04/02/12 (via NHLVideo)

Common Thread:
Panthers first-line forward Tomas Flesichmann played 283 games for the Capitals over six seasons, scoring 60 goals and 78 assists with a minus-11 rating and 84 penalty minutes.

Panthers fourth line winger Matt Bradley played in 427 games over six seasons for the Capitals, scoring 37 goals and 59 assists with a minus-10 rating and 376 penalty minutes.

Panthers winger Marco Sturm played 18 games last season with Washington, scoring one goal and six assists with an even rating and six penalty minutes.

Panthers starting goaltender Jose Theodore played in 104 games over two seasons with the Capitals, racking up an impressive 62-24-12 record with a .905 save percentage and a 2.84 GAA.

Capitals starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun played 248 games over four seasons for the Panthers, compiling a 101-108-30 record with a .923 save percentage and a 2.57 GAA.

Capitals All-Star defenseman Dennis Wideman played in 61 games for Florida last season, scoring nine goals and 24 assists with an even rating and 16 penalty minutes.

Panthers Milestones:
Games:
Dmitry Kulikov will play in his 197th Panther game, passing Steve Montador into 42nd all-time. Shawn Matthias will play in game number 205, passing Juraj Kolnik into 37th all-time.

Goals:
Kris Versteeg and Jason Garrison each have 23, tied in 49th. Shawn Matthias is tied in 46th with Mike Van Ryn, with 25 each. Tomas Fleischmann will tie Bryan McCabe in 42nd with his next goal, number 28. Mike Santorelli will move into a tie with Niklas Hagman in 37th all-time with his next goal, number 30. Ed Jovanovski will move into 32nd with his next goal, number 32, with Richard Zednik.

Assists:
Brian Campbell will pass Keith Ballard into 40th all-time with his 49th assist. Dmitry Kulikov will pass Valeri Bure into 32nd all-time with his 57th assist.

Panthers Leaders:
Games:

Mike Weaver, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann - 80

Goals:
Tomas Fleischmann - 27
Kris Versteeg - 23
Stephen Weiss - 19
Sean Bergenheim - 17

Assists:
Brian Campbell - 48
Stephen Weiss - 37
Tomas Fleischmann - 34

Points:
Tomas Fleischmann - 61
Stephen Weiss - 56
Kris Versteeg - 53
Brian Campbell - 32

Plus/Minus:
Stephen Weiss - plus-6
Jason Garrison - plus-5
Marcel Goc, Kris Versteeg - plus-4

Point Shares:
Jose Theodore - 9.8
Brian Campbell - 8.2
Jason Garrison - 8.0
Tomas Fleischmann - 7.2
Kris Versteeg - 6.5
Stephen Weiss - 6.2

Panthers Injuries:
Jack Skille and Matt Bradley are both out, Skille for the season, and Bradley until April at the earliest.

Panthers Starting Lineups:
Forwards:
Butters - The Captain - Beauty
Bergy - The Count - Sammy
Power - Danger - Uppy
Sturm - Madden - The Terminator

Defensemen:
G-52 - Soupy
Kuli - Wagon
Jovocop - Guds

Goalie:
Jose Theodore (22-15-11, .918, 2.43) is currently listed as probable, but we all know how KD likes to change things up, so Scott Clemmensen (13-6-6, .910, 2.63) remains a possibility.

Capitals Injuries:
Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely with a groin injury, as is defenseman Tom Poti. Defenseman John Erskine is on the IR with a lower body injury.

Capitals Starting Lineup:
Forwards:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perrault - Alexander Semin
Keith Aucoin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Mike Knuble

Defensemen:
Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov - Mike Green

Goalie:
Michal Neuvirth (13-13-5, .901, 2.86) has been confirmed by Caps coach Dale Hunter.

Corsi Ratings: (last five games)

Florida Panthers:
Jerred Smithson - .596
Jason Garrison - .558
Sean Bergenheim - .556
Dmitry Kulikov - .556
Scottie Upshall - .545

Washington Capitals:
Mathieu Perrault - .628
Jason Chimera - .604
Alexander Semin - .588
John Carlson - .560
Keith Aucoin - .540

Standings:
Florida Panthers:
37-25-18, 92 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 15th NHL, on pace for 94 points. Last five: W-O-L-O-O. Playoff odds: 99.5%

Washington Capitals: 40-32-8, 88 points, second Southeast Division, eighth Eastern Conference, 17th NHL, on pace for 90 points. Last five: W-L-W-W-L. Playoff Odds: 72.2%

Season Series: 2-3-0

All-Time Series: 43-45-15

Check out Japer's Rink for the Caps take.

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