The Florida Panthers are still trying to make their way into playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
That last postseason spot in the East is currently held by the Washington Capitals, who’ll host the Panthers on Thursday night.
The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner with a franchise-best 122 points last season, Florida is fighting for its playoff life. It’s been a grind for the Panthers, who are currently two points back of Washington for the final wild-card spot, with a team ahead of them, in the East standings heading into this matchup.
“It comes down to these games, these conference games that mean a lot,” defenseman Radko Gudas told the Panthers’ official website. “I think everybody’s going to look forward to that. A game with a lot of meaning is always fun to play.”
Looking to rebound from Tuesday’s 6-2 loss at St. Louis, the Panthers have been outscored 12-7 while dropping two of the last three. However, Florida is 4-2-0 overall since Jan. 28.
“We want to win every game, but we know it’s not possible,” said Panthers star Carter Verhaeghe, who has seven goals and four assists in his last 10 road contests.
“We just want to keep building our game. … We’re on the right track, but (Tuesday) wasn’t our best. I think we’re going to bring our best in Washington.”
Verhaeghe had two goals, Aleksander Barkov recorded a goal with two assists, and Matthew Tkachuk assisted on three goals during Florida’s 5-2 home win over Washington on Nov. 15.
The Capitals went 15-3-3 from Nov. 23-Jan. 5 but since then have averaged 2.1 non-shootout goals while going 6-9-0. With Tuesday’s 3-2 home loss to Carolina, Washington has dropped two in a row, both at home, where it has lost four of the last five.
And things don’t expect to get any easier without superstar Alex Ovechkin, who announced prior to Tuesday’s game that he would be away from the team indefinitely due to the death of his father.
“If we score three times, the odds are really in favor of us winning, (because) we don’t let in a lot, but when we’re scoring one, two, most of the time, it’s not enough to win,” Washington forward Lars Eller said.
“So, we’ve got to find a way to score a (few) more goals.”
Washington’s T.J. Oshie scored just his third home goal of the season Tuesday and has only two with four assists in 21 career contests versus Florida.
Teammate Darcy Kuemper (2.59 goals-against average) stopped 38 of 42 shots against Florida this season. Backup Charlie Lindgren has allowed three goals apiece in losing three straight home starts.
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky made 41 saves against the Capitals in that contest. He has a 1.73 GAA and .951 save percentage while going 3-1-0 as a starter in February. Teammate Spencer Knight, however, has allowed 26 goals while losing five of his last six starts.
Florida’s Sam Bennett has 35 points this season, but he suffered an undisclosed injury Tuesday, leaving his status uncertain for this contest.
–Field Level Media