Florida is second in the Southeast Division, but only eighth in the Eastern Conference, clinging to the last playoff spot by a single point over the Carolina Hurricanes, so every game is like a playoff game for the Panthers.
Florida has been playing well of late, going 6-2-2 in its last 10 games. The Panthers aren't going to be confused with Detroit or Boston, as they are just 10th in the conference in scoring. They have just one player with more than 15 goals (winger David Booth, with 20), but they do have seven players with 10 or more, so what they last in panache, they make up in bulk.
Center Steven Weiss is the team's leading scorer with 36 points (9 goals, 27 points, plus-16). Nathan Horton (13-18-31) and Cory Stillman (11-17-28) are counter on to contribute up front.
The Panthers' best all-around player is all-star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. His 28 points are fourth on the team (12-16-28, plus-4), and he is as good a defender as they come. There has been plenty of speculation in south Florida that Bouwmeester may be on the trading block as we approach the trading deadline, with the temperatures in Miami starting to attract golfers and herald the start of spring training baseball games.
Washington is reeling a bit from its 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night. Adding injury to insult, the Capitals this week have lost their captain, Chris Clark, to wrist surgery, their veteran backup goalie, Brent Johnson, to impending hip surgery, and a pair of forwards (Viktor Kozlov and Brooks Laich) to nagging day-to-day injuries.
On Friday, the Caps recalled defenseman Karl Alzner and forward Alexandre Giroux from AHL Hershey and signed Staffan Kronwall off waivers from Toronto. They join goalie Michael Neuvirth, who was recalled earlier in the week to back up Jose Theodore, who quietly has been the league best goaltender since Dec. 1.
WAS: PP-4th (23.6%, 53/225); PK-24th (78.8%, 54/255)
FLA: PP-23rd (16.8%, 33/197); PK-16th (81.6%, 38/207)
WAS: RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); RW Viktor Kozlov (Groin-Out); C Brooks Laich (Leg-Questionable); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-IR)
FLA: D Bryan Allen (Knee-IR); LW Rostislav Olesz (Groin-IR)