Game Day Preview: Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers

Florida: 29-40-12 (70PTS)
Washington: 48-22-11 (107PTS)
Season Series: 2-2-1
Race to the Bottom: 30 EDM (61), 29 COL (66), 28 FLA (68), 27 NYI (73), 26 OTT (74),
Record before and after the trade deadline: 26-29-7 (59PTS) .476 / 3-11-5 (11PTS) .289

The end is finally here. Tonight, in both teams' last game of the season, the Panthers host the Washington Capitals. The Caps haven't played since the Panthers visited them earlier in the week, while the Cats lost to the Lightning last night in Tampa. While there was a possibility that all three Panthers games this week would have playoff implications, the Capitals needed only the win against the Panthers to cement their lead in the Eastern Conference. Last night's Lightning win was negated by the Penguins' overtime victory against the Islanders. They will finish at fifth in the Conference. The Panthers position is cemented at last in the Conference and 28th in the league, no matter what happens tonight. Given that, there is a small amount of hope for a Panthers win tonight. The Capitals may lay back, given that they start the playoffs in a few days and don't need the points. The Panthers will try to take the last one at home and could tie the season series with a win.

Last meeting: The Capitals beat the Panther 5-2 on Wednesday in the Caps' last home game of the season.

Last game: The Cats lost 5-2 to the Tampa bay Lightning in the Lightning's last home game of the season. The Panthers started out strong and had some life, but a gaffe by Scott Clemmensen where he basically scored on himself took the wind out of their sales and the Lightning dominated the rest of the game.

Notes: Stephen Weiss will miss the final game of the season with the groin injury that's kept him out of the last bunch of games. Steve Bernier and Darcy Hordichuk have probably played their last games as Panthers, as both will miss tonight and probably not return next season. Alexander Sulzer and Ryan Carter will be out tonight. Shawn Matthias only played the first 30 minutes in Tampa. It is unknown if he was benched or if his ankle was hurting again. No call-ups have been announced, so he will probably start tonight, but may not make it all the way through the game again.

Injuries: Steve Bernier, day to day (4/6/2011), Darcy Hordichuk, oblique, day to day (4/6/2011), Ryan Carter, concussion, day to day (4/6/2011), Stephen Weiss, groin, day to day (4/2/2011). Alexander Sulzer, groin, day to day (3/29/2011). Scott Timmins, concussion, unknown (3/10/2011). Rostislav Olesz, knee, out for the season (2/25/2011). Byron Bitz (IR), sports hernia, out for the season.

Starting goaltenders: Tomas Vokoun will return tonight and play what is possibly his last game as a Panther. Semyon Varlamov was one of the few Capitals out for the pre-game skate tonight, so it's our official guess that Michal Neuvirth will start for the Caps. Vokoun has two wins, a 1.47 GAA and a .957 save percentage in two starts against the Capitals this season. Neuvirth has a win and an overtime loss, a 2.92 GAA and .920 save percentage in two starts against the Panthers.

Lines:
Forwards:
Samsonov - Reasoner - Booth
Dadonov - Santorelli - Skille
Bergfors - Matthias - Repik
Rissmiller - Thomas - Kennedy

Defense:
Weaver-Garrison
Kulikov-Ellerby
Callahan-Wilson

Tonight is the Panthers' fan appreciation night, with giveaways throughout the game. It's usually a chaotic affair with constant giveaways announced every time there is a break in play. Far more interesting to me is the "Shirts off our back" auction. The Panthers started the bidding online this year and most of the team already have bids on their jerseys. It is of no small note that only current Panthers are represented, so fans can bid on short time Cats Hugh Jessiman, Tim Kennedy and Byron Bitz, but not traded captain Bryan McCabe or veterans Cory Stillman, Bryan Allen and Radek Dvorak. Bitz played no regular season games this year and only seven last year, while Dvorak is the franchise leader in games played and McCabe, Stillman and Allen had tenures between 3 and 5 seasons. Check out the auction here. Please note that any further bids have to be placed at the game.

No matter what happens tonight, we bid a fond farewell to whatever players (and coaches) might not be back next year and urge all readers to forget the team's miserable record. Better years are to come and sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. While still ending up in 28th place, the Panthers played better over the whole season this year than last. For all the jokes about tanking that were made here, it really hurt when the players did tank last season and there was none of that in this year's Cats. We at Litter Box Cats will be here all off-season with news and views about the team, the players and front-office news including draft weekend and free agent coverage, so don't go anywhere. This off-season promises to be more exciting than last and this writer is already looking forward to next year's training camp.

More from our Washington cohorts at Japers' Rink.

Capitals vs Panthers coverage at SBNation.com

TSN Preview here.

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