First-place Caps visit Panthers

The Washington Capitals' most recent victory allowed them to forge a tie atop the Southeast Division. The Capitals hope to stay there by continuing their dominance of the Florida Panthers in Saturday's encounter in Sunrise.

Washington began this season with a 2-8-1 record, but has been steadily picking up ground since that awful start. Thursday's 2-1 shootout win over the visiting New York Islanders allowed the Capitals to join the Winnipeg Jets atop the Southeast at 38 points apiece.

The Jets are also in action on Saturday, as they're set to host an afternoon battle with Philadelphia.

Washington has a strong chance of keeping pace with the Jets on Saturday, considering the Caps' recent history against Florida, which is last in the Eastern Conference with 30 points. Washington has won six straight against the Panthers and has outscored Florida by an 18-6 margin over the three meetings this season. The Caps also have won two in a row and six of the last 10 on the road in this series.

Alex Ovechkin recorded the deciding goal during Thursday's shootout win over the Isles, while Braden Holtby turned in an outstanding performance between the pipes to help lift Washington to the big victory.

Holtby stopped 35-of-36 shots through regulation and overtime, then stoned all three New York skaters in the final phase. Mike Green had the lone regulation goal for Washington, now 6-1-1 over its last eight outings.

"We have a lot of hockey left," Capitals head coach Adam Oates said of his team vaulting into a tie for first in the division.

Washington, which will return home to face Tampa Bay on Sunday, is 9-9-2 as the visiting team this season.

Although the Panthers are last in the conference, the club is entering Saturday's contest riding a season-best three-game winning streak. All three victories have come after regulation, including the most recent one, a 3-2 shootout win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Peter Mueller had the lone goal in the shootout to lift the Panthers past the Lightning. Jacob Markstrom had 39 saves and stopped shootout attempts by Teddy Purcell, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos for the Panthers, who are on their longest winning streak since taking five in a row from March 11-20 of last season.

Greg Rallo and Tomas Kopecky tallied, while T.J. Brennan had two assists in the win.

"To me, (Markstrom) was the player of the game," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said. "There were some quality opportunities and Markstrom stood tall when we needed him."

Florida is 6-8-5 as the host this season and is playing two straight and three of its next four on home ice.

Highly-touted prospect Nick Bjugstad expects to make his NHL debut for the Panthers on Saturday. The 6-foot-6 center's college career with the University of Minnesota came to an end last week and he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers on Wednesday.

Bjugstad, who ranked in the top-10 in the NCAA in goals in each of the past two seasons, was selected 19th overall by Florida at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.