Here’s Doug Johnson of the PuckBuddys with your penultimate pregamer. Follow @PuckBuddys.

Early Morning Skate: Our doctor advises those of you with heart issues, temper problems, or who are prone to premature catastrophization to avoid watching the Capitals Thursday night. In fact, why not just turn the TV and iPad off and curl up into a little whimpering ball right now.

The rest of us? We few… we lucky few… are ready for, and this is no hyperbole, the single most cosmically important game for any team since the beginning of time. That said, will the Capitals be ready as well?

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Tuesday Night Hockey Did Not Go Well For the Caps

Photo credit: Bill Wippert

The Caps wasted a chance to climb the standings with Monday night’s loss to the Lightning, but we held out hope that our rivals– Buffalo (9th place), Ottawa (7th), and Florida (3rd)– would have crummy nights on Tuesday.

That did not happen.

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Video: Florida’s Matt Bradley Hurt After Colliding with Glass

Photo credit: Gary I. Rothstein

During Sunday’s game between the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks, former Capitals player (and fan favorite) Matt Bradley suffered what appears to be a significant injury.

During the second period, Anaheim’s George Parros apparently leveled Bradley at center ice with a high shoulder hit. Bradley attempted to hit Parros into the boards in retaliation a few seconds later. Parros slowed to avoid the hit, causing Bradley to collide with the glass headfirst. Bradley was unable to continue playing and required help off the ice and into the locker room. He did not return to the game.

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Florida Panthers Pregame: Deal The Card

Doug Johnson is a Puck Buddy. Read Puck Buddys. Follow @PuckBuddys. Obey.

The Pregame: True story. Florida’s Everglades have become so overrun with non-native Burmese Pythons, imported by one simpleton New Jersey retiree couple on Hoverounds, that they’ve eaten just about everything good and natural to the region, leaving the entire ecosystem on the edge of collapse. Really.

And yet, we are so overcome with issues of real import (Caps fail) that we cannot even fill in the punchline here. The easy, made-to-order, South Florida punchline. The joke that Dave Barry has penned a hundred times (and Gene Weingarten a thousand.)

THAT is precisely how dire our current situation is. To make it clear: if two well-educated, middle-aged gay men can’t make wry comments about South Florida, you know it’s fer realz.

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Photo: Greg Fiume

The Washington Capitals reclaimed the Southeast Division lead with a thunderous victory over the Florida Panthers, who kind of sucked. It’s possible that the Panthers expected to play the doughy 2011-2012 Capitals. When the Caps came out all tumescent instead, the Cats were probably bewildered. Great game.

Mathieu Perreault scored on the games first shot, a plucky shut set up by Jason Chimera just 13 seconds into the game. Alex Ovechkin zipped past the Florida D to convert on the power play. Jason Chimera opened the second period with a shorthanded goal, his second of the year. 10 minutes later, Alex Ovechkin’s blazing fast wrister surprised Scott Clemmensen. No goals in the third period. Caps beat Cats 4-0.

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Florida Panthers Pregame: Raise the Titanic!

Doug Johnson, Puck Buddy. Twitter. Didja read their latest thing? It was terrific.

The Pregame: “Oh dear.”  Oh, d-d-dearie dear me. Gosh and darn it all.

Remember that funny little wiggly piglet from your childhood stories named…um, Piglet? The one who worried about everything x 2? Oh, the one who was really needy?  We do. Specifically, we remember that Piglet, for all his kindness, was prone to needless worry.

“SEO!” yell our overlords at RMNB (not really.) (Kinda.) “Optimize key items! Fast and tight! Key words! Search items for hits!”

“Caps Fail!” screech the bloglines. “Disaster!” “Pull The Plug”*

We’re ignoring both.

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The Value of Joel Rechlicz

Photo credit: Kyle Mace

Known fighter Joel Rechlicz has played 5 minutes and 25 seconds of Capitals hockey this year. In his six shifts, he saw one shot go on his net and zero at the other. He has amassed no penalties and recorded no turnovers. He did ice the puck once though. That was fun.

Rechlicz’s one-year contract is for $525,000– which will count towards the Capitals’ already stressed salary cap. Rechlicz is a pure fighter, a dying breed in pro hockey. Adding him to the roster of the Washington Capitals (whose woes include a lacking offense, malformed defense, and poor road performances– but not fighting) seemed like an arbitrary acquisition– one that does not improve their prospects for winning and fritters away precious salary cap space just before the trade deadline.

But for all his detractors, Wrecker also has some defenders. On Wednesday’s edition of the Capitals Report podcast, Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com and radio play-by-play guy John Walton discussed and defended the value of Rechlicz.

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Must-Win Game… Lost: Panthers beat Caps 4-2

Photo credit: Alan Diaz

The Washington Capitals have three dates with the Florida Panthers in February, and these games will determine their chances for a postseason. This one was a so-called “four-point game”, and the Capitals came up tragically short.

After a scoreless first period, Mikael Samuelsson faked a hardaround and then fired a shot to Neuvirth’s far side– hitting the post then net. It was a fluke-y, no-look shot from almost 90 feet out, but it caught Neuvirth being lazy, and that’s what matters. Brooks Laich tied it up with a feisty top-shelfer from the crease during 4-on-4 play. Samuelsson got his second of the night with the go-ahead goal on a third period power play. After a long adjudication, Stephen Weiss was awarded a goal that had been washed out at first.

John Carlson made it a one-goal game with a leisurely slapper from the high slot, but Shawn Matthias grabbed an empty netter a few moments later. Panthers beat Caps 4-2.

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Cats beat Caps 5-4, Realignment is Happening

Eliot J. Schechter

Alex Ovechkin does nothing in particular. (Photo credit: Eliot J. Schechter)

Apparently it had been too long since a mortifying loss. The Washington Capitals’ pummeling at the paws of the Florida Panthers fixed that– despite a strong effort in the closing minutes. We don’t care. The realignment thing is happening, so let’s talk about that instead.

Goals went like this: Weiss deflects off Wideman on the PP. 13 seconds later, Santorelli goes 7-hole on Neuvy. Kulikov gets one on the PP. Mike Knuble slaps one under Clemmenson. Bergenheim converts on the PP when Neuvy can’t cover the puck.  Weiss gets a layup when Flash draws 4 Caps and the 5th one (Ovechkin) can’t be bothered to play D. Eakin scores thanks to a huge Knuble screen and Perreault assist. Brooks Laich topshelfed it from traffic. Jason Chimera deflected a John Carlson shot. Big flurry at the end, but ran outta time. Cats beat Caps 5-4.

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Kris Versteeg wipes out. (Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson)

How was your weekend? The Caps won. That was cool. I bet Coach Hunter is psyched. I lost my cell phone. That sucked.

On Monday night, the Capitals hit the road again, leaving a tumultuous three-game home stand behind them. They’ll be suiting up in Sunrise, Florida, which is a ludicrous name for a city. The hosting team? The Florida Capitals.

Marjory the Trash Heap was also assembled from other people's refuse.

Ahh, shoot! Florida Panthers. Sorry. But the Florida roster does sport four ex-Caps: Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, and Marco Sturm (who shouldn’t really count). How did so many Caps players end up in Florida? Over the summer, Panthers GM Dale Tallon got his checkbook out and started signing free agents all willy nilly just to reach the salary floor.

And now– somehow– the Panthers are at the top of the Southeast Division. No one saw that coming. This team was assembled from spare parts. We had joked that it was a retirement home. These guys shouldn’t have a cohesive personality, let alone a winning record. Instead, they’re 14-8-4 and they’ve commited the fewest minor penalties in the league. It’s disciplined and effective hockey they’re playing in Sunrise, which is still is a stupid name for a city.

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