Photo credit: Joel Auerbach

Ever since the Panthers beat the tar out of the Lightning 7-4 on Monday, they’ve struggled to put the puck in the net. On Tuesday, they traveled up to DC to face former teammate Tomas Vokoun and got blanked 3-0. Thursday, the trend continued.  Down one goal to the Sabres after 30 minutes of listless hockey, Florida was  looking for momentum.

Enter Matt Bradley.

After a neutral zone faceoff, the former Capital skated with purpose towards Paul Gaustad and shoved him. You know what happened next.

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First rule of hockey writing: if there’s a photo of a guy hit in the junk, USE IT. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

The Florida Panthers were still coming down off blowing out Tampa 7-4 when they showed up for their game with the Washington Capitals. That big win must have taken a lot out of them, ’cause they just didn’t show up to play on Tuesday.

Three penalty killers gravitated to Alex Ovechkin, leaving Marcus Johansson enough space to score his third of the season. Early in the third period, Alex Semin effortlessly ripped the puck far side to make it 2-0. With an empty net, Alex Semin fed goal-scoring leader Jason Chimera, who lobbed it in for the coup de graceCaps beat Cats 3-0.

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Photo credit: Scott Audette

Photo credit: Scott Audette

The Florida Panthers spent their Monday night trouncing the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-4. The Cats used five powerplay goals to fend off a third period rally from their rivals in America’s groin. By now the Panthers are probably already on their way up to Washington.

Here we go. This is the game you’ve been looking forward to. Not the rematch with Tampa, the date with Pittsburgh, or Thursday’s face-off with Jagr. You have been amped for this game: Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann– all your exes are coming over for a dinner party and it’s going to be AWKWARD.

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At 35, Tomas Vokoun knows he doesn’t have much time left be on a winning team with a chance at the Stanley Cup. And for the Czech netminder, Washington, DC is the place be as he signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal to come to the Caps Saturday.

“The money side, it’s not great but, you know, I think the opportunity is unbelievable,” he said on a conference call Sunday morning. “I decided that this chance for me to extend my career and play for a great team and have fun playing.”

Vokoun, who has at total of 262 big league wins, has been in the playoffs just twice in his NHL career, spending the last four seasons with the cellar-welling Florida Panthers. In those years in the Southeast Division with the Cats, Vokoun got an up close look at the resurgence of the Capitals in the Alex Ovechkin era and liked what he saw.

“I know how good that team is,” said Vokoun, who turned down a three-year offer from the Panthers. “I know I’m going to have fun. I’ve been on winning teams before but nothing like Washington. … I just felt I wanted to move on and try something different.”
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Neuvirth lets in the game's only goal

The game’s only goal. Whatever. (Photo credit: Alan Diaz)

The Capitals will face the Rangers -- who won 5-2 Saturday -- in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo credit: Jonathan Klein)

The Capitals will face the Rangers -- who won 5-2 Saturday -- in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo credit: Jonathan Klein)

The game that impacted the Capitals the most Saturday night didn’t involve Washington at all. In fact, it took place 13 hours away from them in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With the New York Rangers beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Saturday afternoon, the Carolina Hurricanes had to get the victory Saturday night to tie New York at 93 standings points. By virtue of holding the tie-breaker Carolina would pick-up the eighth and final playoff spot, getting themselves a date with the Caps.
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Alex Ovechkin takes a shot against the Panthers

Just another ho-hum night for Ovechkin: 1 goal, 2 assists. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Semyon Varlamov: Your game's number one star. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Semyon Varlamov: Your game's number one star. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

In a matchup between the Eastern Conference’s best and worst teams, Bruce Boudreau opted to scratch three of his regulars — Jason Arnott, Scott Hannan and Alexander Semin — in the Capitals final home game of the regular season. After seeing his team play a tough 65 minutes in Toronto, Boudreau saw no compelling reason to field his best roster, especially considering the Capitals had already clinched their fourth straight Southeast division title.

Despite there being some signs pointing to Mike Green returning to the line-up tonight, Boudreau opted to sit the two-time Norris Trophy finalist as well. Boudreau told the Washington Post’s Greg Schimmel after today’s morning skate that, “No [Green won’t play tonight], but you know what, he’s ready to play and, I mean, he’s been symptom-free for three weeks plus. It’s just we’re trying to be as cautious as we can with things, just as other people are with guys that they have as concussions and could probably play, but they want to make 100 percent sure. We feel he’ll be good to go on Saturday.”

The Capitals “B” team, however, didn’t miss a beat. Before the game was a minute old, Marcus Johansson — he of the ever-burgeoning confidence — inside outted Mike Weaver with an extra-crispy move. Helpless and out of position, Weaver took a tripping penalty, sending the Capitals power play immediately onto the ice. Mike Knuble, the beneficiary of a Brooks Laich power move to the net, scored 23 seconds into the man-advantage. Jason Chimera, brilliantly set-up by Nicklas Backstrom, then scored via a tap-in on Washington’s second powerplay of the night to close the opening stanza.

The Capitals would never look back. Sean Collins would score his second career NHL goal on a rarely-seen four-on-two odd man break during the second period, Matt Hendricks would pot a goal in front of the net after some hard forechecking in the corners and Alex Ovechkin would add an empty-net goal, his 32nd of the season. Caps maul Panthers, 5-2.

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Alex Semin OTGWG

Hendy tells Sasha what we can only assume is “I freakin’ love you” after Semin scores the OTGWG.

Marcus Johansson writhes in pain after blocking a shot on the PK. (Photo credit: Joel Auerbach)

Marcus Johansson writhes in pain after blocking a shot on the PK. (Photos by: Joel Auerbach)

Entering tonight’s game with the Florida Panthers, the Capitals only trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning by one standings point for the Southeast Division lead. Karl Alzner told CSN before the game, “It’s nice to have that battle going on at the end of the season. In the end, I think it’s going to help us gear up for that playoff push.” After several years of dominating the division, coasting into the playoffs, and then losing in the early rounds, Alzner’s words are certainly reassuring from a fan’s perspective. Could this division battle down the stretch be everything that the Capitals need?

One thing that still needs to be corrected by the Capitals, however, if they have dreams of playing in June is their poor play in the first period. While they’ve noticeably ramped up their intensity in the game’s opening minutes, they still have had problems scoring the game’s first goal. Tonight, was no different.

Florida got off to an early 1-0 lead after taking advantage of a Dennis Wideman turnover in the offensive zone. After several attempts to get the puck deep and failing, Bill Thomas took the puck from Wideman, passed the puck up to teammate Michal Repik, and the two raced in alone on John Erskine and Michal Neuvirth. Erskine, who failed to take away the pass on the two-on-one, watched helplessly as Repik hit Thomas in stride and deposited the puck into the back of the net. The Capitals however, quickly responded a minute and 13 seconds later. After some powerful forechecking by Alex Ovechkin in the corners, Ovi found Nicklas Backstrom unguarded in the middle of the circles. Backstrom’s one-timer eluded Scott Clemmensen and the game was tied.

Scoring would not pick up until midway through the second period. At 10:02, John Carlson unleashed a slap shot that Clemmensen could not corral. The puck squirted out to Boyd Gordon in the slot, who suavely backhanded home his second goal of the year.

Things would then get dicey in the final minutes of the third period, as the Capitals would not be able to hold onto their one goal lead. After Erskine and Wideman took penalties, David Booth forced overtime by scoring in front of the net on the proceeding five-on-three powerplay. But that’s okay. Alex Semin is a stone cold pimp and ended it in overtime 28 48 seconds in. Caps top Cats, 3-2.

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George McPhee brought in two veterans, Jason Arnott and Dennis Wideman into the fold today

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that the Jake Hauswirth era is over. Hauswirth was packaged along with Washington’s 3rd round selection in the 2011 draft for defenseman Dennis Wideman. The 3rd round pick is minor, since a player drafted in that round plays an average of 71 NHL games — total for their career — while they amass an eye popping 24 points. But the Caps lost Hauswirth, so a moment of silence.

Now let’s focus on picking up the pieces, and see what goodies George McPhee got Caps fans.

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This evening, George McPhee addressed the local media after he made two big acquisitions before the NHL’s Trade Deadline at 3pm. First, in the morning, McPhee acquired puck-moving defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Florida Panthers for fringe prospect Jake Hauswirth and the Capitals’ third round draft pick in 2011. GMGM also landed Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils for David Steckel and the Capitals’s second round pick in 2012. Above, McPhee talks about the newest additions to the Caps’ family and explains how he believes they will help the team.

Stephen Weiss

When I posted my thoughts on which second-line centers might be a fit for the Capitals, many of you asked me: “What about Stephen Weiss of the Florida Panthers?” So I am going to use that as today’s collective Feed the Machine question and see what the numbers say.

The first step is to take a look at what it is going to cost in terms of the salary cap. Since Washington has $6,686,351 in cap space at the deadline, Weiss’s $3.1 million cap hit should not be an issue. Plus, he is under contract through the 2012-13 season so it is important to note that this wouldn’t be a rental.

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