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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Wednesday, April 6th (All times eastern)

Florida Panthers (29-38-12) at Washington Capitals (47-22-11), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Washington Capitals earned two big points last night in Toronto and they enter tonight's home test against Florida as Southeast Division champions and the top seed in the East.

The Capitals posted a 3-2 shootout victory over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, as Mike Knuble netted the winner in the fourth round. A win would have clinched Washington its fourth straight division title, but the Caps already won the Southeast as a result of Tampa Bay's regulation loss earlier in Buffalo.

Although the two points were not needed in the Southeast race, the win did help Washington move two points ahead of Philadelphia for the conference's No. 1 seed. The Caps can extend that lead to four over the idle Flyers, who, like Washington, have two games left in the regular season.

The shootout decision for the Leafs was the third straight win for Washington and all three victories have come after regulation. In fact, the Caps have gone past 60 minutes in four straight games and they have suffered just two regulation losses in their last 18 games (15-2-1).

Alex Ovechkin and John Erskine tallied in regulation for the Capitals on Tuesday and Michal Neuvirth made 19 stops for the win.

"They looked a little tired -- mentally tired," Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said of Toronto. "It's hard hanging on and hanging on and hanging on. I thought as the game wore on we kept getting it deep and wearing them down a little bit."

Washington has a 24-8-8 record as the home team this season and is playing the regular-season finale at the Verizon Center tonight. The Caps will complete their schedule Saturday, when they visit the Panthers in Florida.

The Panthers, who are going to miss the playoffs for an NHL-record 10th straight season this year, have not taken to the spoiler role in recent weeks, as they enter tonight on an eight-game slide (0-5-3). The skid is the longest for Florida since an 0-8-4 rut from Oct. 27-Nov. 23, 2005.

Florida's most recent setback came Saturday against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, who earned a 4-2 victory at BankAtlantic Center after falling behind 2-1 in the first period following a pair of quick goals by the Panthers.

Jack Skille scored with 5:22 left in the opening period for Florida and Clay Wilson added his club's only other goal just 22 seconds later.

"I wish we could have pulled [a win] off," said Skille.

Scott Clemmensen stopped 30 shots in defeat and he could get the start tonight, as Tomas Vokoun is expected to sit out again with back spasms.

Panthers forward Stephen Weiss missed the last game with a groin injury and is questionable for tonight.

Florida has lost its last seven road games since posting a win in Atlanta on Feb. 25. The Panthers are just 14-21-4 as the visiting club this year and they will make a stop Friday in Tampa before closing the regular season with Saturday's home tilt against these Capitals.

The Caps and Panthers have split four meetings so far this year, but Washington has taken eight of 10 and nine of the last 12 encounters overall. Florida has also dropped four of five and five of its last seven tests in D.C.

04/06 11:00:33 ET


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