Capitals, Panthers look for key points in East playoff race

The Sports Network
3/25/2012 11:16:50 AM
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(Sports Network) - The Washington Capitals will try to rebound after a rough overtime loss when they host the Minnesota Wild for tonight's interconference clash at the Verizon Center.

The Capitals fell to 1-2-2 in their last five games after blowing a three-goal lead in Friday's 4-3 overtime loss to visiting Winnipeg. That setback came one day after Washington dropped a 2-1 shootout decision in Philadelphia.

Washington desperately needs a win tonight, as it is currently two points behind Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Sabres are idle today and will next play on Tuesday when they visit Washington for an important battle in the postseason race.

The Capitals have not fared well in recent years against Minnesota, losing six of the last eight encounters in this series. Washington, however, has won four of the five all-time meetings in D.C.

Washington opened a three-game homestand Friday against the Jets and the Capitals built a 3-0 lead by the early stages of the second period before Winnipeg scored three unanswered goals to push the game to overtime. The setback dropped Washington to 23-10-4 as the host this season.

Winnipeg's Tim Stapleton ended Friday's game with 2:23 left in overtime, beating Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth with a high, quick wrister from the left circle.

"We took our foot off the gas," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We just fell apart pretty much. It was an embarrassing, embarrassing loss."

Alex Ovechkin tallied twice for the Capitals, while Neuvirth ended with 38 saves in defeat. Ovechkin is riding a four-game goal-scoring streak and has six tallies over that stretch to give him 35 on the season.

Tomas Vokoun, Washington's regular starting goaltender, has sat out the last four games with a groin injury and is questionable for today. Neuvirth and Braden Holtby have split starts while Vokoun has rested. Neuvirth is 0-1-1 in Vokoun's absence and Holtby is 1-0-1 during that stretch.

Caps centerman Nicklas Backstrom has been out since Jan. 3 due to a concussion, but he was cleared for full participation in practice on Saturday. Although he appears to be nearing his return to the ice, there is still no word on when he will actually see game action.

Backstrom was Washington's leading scorer when he was injured, and despite missing the last 37 games, he is still fourth on the team with 42 points.

The Wild, who have been all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff race out West, are coming off Saturday's loss in Buffalo. Marcus Foligno scored the game-winning goal early in the third period to lift the Sabres to the 3-1 win at First Niagara Center.

Steven Kampfer scored the lone goal for the Wild, while Josh Harding gave up two goals on 36 shots.

Minnesota is 14-18-6 as the road team this season and is wrapping a two-game trip tonight. The Wild will begin a three-game homestand Tuesday against the New York Rangers.

Panthers take on Islanders, looking to grow division lead

(Sports Network) - The first-place Florida Panthers will try to avoid a third straight loss when they host the New York Islanders in this evening's test at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida won a season-high five straight games from March 11-20, but the club has since lost in regulation to Carolina and also suffered a shootout setback in Friday's home tilt against Edmonton.

The Panthers, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2000, are four points ahead of Washington for first place in the Southeast Division. The Capitals have played one more game (75) than the Panthers and are in action today against the visiting Minnesota Wild.

Florida was dealt a 2-1 loss on Friday, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins netted the lone goal of the shootout to lift Edmonton. Nugent-Hopkins outwaited Jose Theodore, and managed to slip a backhander home from the right side for the deciding tally.

Theodore ended up with 20 saves in the loss and Jason Garrison scored Florida's lone goal.

"I don't like playing the scoreboard game. I like taking care of our business and tonight we just didn't do that," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said about his team's playoff position.

The Panthers had tied a franchise record with five straight home wins before the streak ended on Friday. Florida, which will play its next four games on the road, is 20-9-9 as the host this season.

Florida is 3-0 against the Islanders this year and has a 6-1-1 record in the last eight meetings between the clubs. New York has also dropped nine of its last 10 games in Sunrise, Fla.

The Islanders, who are tied with Montreal for last in the East, are coming off Saturday's 4-3 loss in Tampa Bay. Tim Wallace scored the winner with under eight minutes to play as the Lightning beat the Islanders in regulation.

Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen each had a goal and an assist for the Islanders, who had won two straight before Saturday's setback.

While not officially eliminated, New York's postseason hopes received a mortal blow as it is 13 points back with eight games to play. Al Montoya gave up four goals on 26 shots in the loss.

"The team played well and we did what we had to do to win, but I just didn't feel comfortable back there tonight," said Montoya. "When the team needed me to make a save I didn't make it and that's not what I want to do."

New York is playing the fourth game of a five-game road trip tonight. The Isles are just 15-17-5 on the road this season.

Alex Ovechkin Stephen Weiss (Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images / Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images / Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
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