The Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers played a game last night in Sunrise, FL that did not matter.  Sure, it will go in the books as a 1-0 win for the home team, but the result was meaningless.

The Panthers, with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference, lost out on their chance at the second season weeks ago.  And the Caps had already sewn up the top spot for the second season in a row a couple days earlier.

The only important thing about this game was not sustaining injury.  Which apparently they managed to do.

The loss was just Washington's third regulation loss in its last 20 games, but there weren't too many people associated with the team that were concerned with that detail.

No, the Caps weren't all that interested in who would win this game.  But they WERE interested in the outcome of the Carolina-Tampa Bay game, which would determine their first round matchup.  The Lightning tore into the Hurricanes, getting a 3-0 lead en route to a 6-2 win, knocking the 'Canes out of the playoffs and sending the New York Rangers to face the Capitals, either Wednesday or Thursday night at Verizon Center.

The Rangers clobbered the Caps in two of their three wins against D.C, winning at MSG in December 7-0 and 6-0 in D.C. in late February.  The Blueshirts were 6-3-1 down the stretch, but also lost second leading scorer Ryan Callahan (23-25-48, minus-7) to a broken leg and he'll be sidelined indefinitely.

New York is a big, physical team and could give the Caps fits, and as always they are backed by Henrik Lundqvist, one of the very best goalies in the league.  But they do not have a ton of offensive firepower and are prone to deep scoring slumps.

We'll have a ton more coverage of the first round matchup in the next couple of days.

This is the time all Caps fans have been waiting for.  And frankly, it's the time the Caps themselves have been waiting for.  It's been a strange, compelling season, and we're seen a transformation in the way the team plays and coaches. 

We've seen players grow up before our eyes.  We've seen players shipped out and brought in.  We're seen players alter their games.  We'll find out in the coming weeks whether it was for the better or worse. 

CAPS NOTES:  Mike Green (concussion symptoms) did not play against Florida.  The team opted to keep him out in hopes of avoiding a set back in his return.  He's been cleared by the league and has been practicing fully the last few days, but has yet to face opponents in a real game.

Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm were rested as well.

Washington finished the regular season 48-23-11-107, first in the Eastern Conference and second overall to the Vancouver Canucks with 117.  The Caps were 25-8-8 at home and 23-15-3 on the road, falling short of the franchise road record of victories by one.  They were 19th in goals per game, 4th in goals against per game, 16th on the power play and second on the kill.