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Caps hope to close the gap with Panthers in Sunrise

The Washington Capitals will try to make up some ground in the battle for first place in the Southeast Division when they visit the Florida Panthers tonight at BankAtlantic Center.

The Capitals and Panthers met over a week ago with the top spot in the Southeast on the line and Washington's 4-0 win moved it one point ahead of Florida for the division lead. However, Washington is winless since that encounter in D.C. on Feb. 7 and Florida has compiled a 3-1 mark over that span to build a four-point lead atop the Southeast.

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals in last week's win over Florida and the Caps star forward has amassed 49 points (22 goals, 27 assists) in 41 career games against the Panthers. Former Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun also made 42 saves to record his fourth shutout of the season in the 4-0 triumph.

Vokoun played the previous four seasons with the Panthers before signing a one-year deal with Washington over the summer. He started both of Washington's home games against Florida this season, but still hasn't seen action in Sunrise. Vokoun was unable to suit up for Monday's game against San Jose due to a bout of the flu, but he is expected to get the start tonight.

Washington and Florida have split four encounters this year and the home team has won every meeting so far. The Panthers have won three straight and four of their last five home tests against the Caps.

The Caps have lost their last two games in regulation and have gone 0-2-1 since their recent win over Florida. Washington was last in action on Monday, when it dropped a 5-3 decision to visiting San Jose. The Caps went 0-for-4 on the power play in the game and allowed the Sharks to convert on three of their six opportunities with the man advantage.

Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz and Dmitry Orlov tallied for the Capitals, losers of eight of their last 11 games. The rough patch has not helped Washington's playoff chances, as the club is three points behind Toronto for the East's eighth and final postseason berth.

Braden Holtby was shelled for all five scores on 35 shots against the Sharks. The 22-year-old was called up from Hershey of the AHL prior to the game because of Vokoun's illness, but it still came as a surprise that he was chosen to start the game over Washington's Michal Neuvirth.

"I didn't hear what was going to happen until I got to the rink before the game," said Holtby of his first NHL appearance since March 26.

Tonight marks the first stop on a four-game road trip for Washington, which is just 9-15-3 as the guest this season compared to a 19-8-2 mark at home.

Florida will try to bounce back tonight after having a three-game winning streak snapped Wednesday by Ottawa. The Senators slammed the Panthers, 6-2, to spoil the opener of a four-game homestand and drop Florida's home record to 14-6-7.

Another former Panthers goaltender haunted Florida on Wednesday as Craig Anderson came back to Sunrise and stopped 42 shots for Ottawa. The 30-year-old goaltender spent three years in Florida from 2006-09 and was primarily used as a backup to Vokoun.

Shawn Matthias and Sean Bergenheim scored for the Panthers, while Scott Clemmensen gave up four goals on 16 shots before he was pulled in favor of Jose Theodore, who stopped 13-of-15 shots in relief.

Florida is still playing without a trio of key defenseman, as Ed Jovanovski, Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov are all sidelined with injuries. Forwards Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm are also out while recovering from surgeries.