Saturday, April 5, 2008

Panthers/Capitals Preview

There are 82 games in the NHL's regular season, and the Capitals have needed every one of them to try and get themselves into a playoff position. It all comes down to this for the Capitals in 2007-08, a game in their own barn, with a sea of red backing them inside the arena and the support of a city that hasn't been this fully behind the Caps since their 1998 Stanley Cup run. The Caps opponent, the Florida Panthers, played the role of spoiler last night in Raleigh and will be looking to do the same against the Caps. The improbable Panthers win might just be a case of the hockey gods looking favorably upon Washington: the Panthers were outshot 46-17 last night, were called for nine penalties to Carolina's zero, used both their goaltenders and won in Carolina for the first time since 2002. Beyond just the win, this is good news for a Capitals team that will be facing the traveling Panthers squad less than 24 hours after last night's intense matchup, so something tells me the Caps will probably have more spring in their step.

The bottom line? The Capitals need one point to get in to the postseason. Let's do this thing.

Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals
Saturday, April 5th, 2008, 7:00 PM
Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Last Meeting: 3/29/08, Caps win 3-0

About the Opponent

Florida Panthers: 38-34-9, 85 points, 3rd in the Southeast Division, 11th in the Eastern Conference

Team Leaders
Goals: Olli Jokinen (34)
Assists: Olli Jokinen (37)
Points: Olli Jokinen (71)
Plus/Minus: Jassen Cullimore (+21)
Penalty Minutes: Nathan Horton (85)
Fights: Tanner Glass (7)

Keys to the Game

Score early and score often. Florida's primary motivation in this game is going to be playing the role of spoiler. While that might be enough to get off to solid start or provide a boost late in a close game, it's probably not going to be enough to motivate a team to come back from a 2-0 or 3-0 deficit.

Convert your chances. Unless something strange happens, the Capitals should have more shots, more scoring chances more puck possession and more offensive zone time, so the only way Florida is going to have a shot on the big board is to convert an unusually higher number of their opportunities.

Players to Watch

John Erskine - The only way I see the Capitals losing this game is if they make mistakes to hand the game to Florida; the only player that I think is likely to make a mistake like that is Erskine. The Capitals don't need a great game from Erskine, they just need him to not screw up.

Tomas Vokoun/Craig Anderson - Both are capable of stealing a game, and there's a very good chance that whichever Panther is in net will be the toughest task for the Capitals tonight.

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