Capitals aim to rebound against slumping Panthers

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By Matt Becker

Stats Writer

Washington (43-22-6) at Florida (34-25-10) 7:30 p.m. EST

SUNRISE, Florida (AP) -- In the race for one of the top seeds in

the Eastern Conference, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau

couldn't figure out why some of his players seemed to lack

motivation their last time out.

Boudreau hopes his team comes out with a stronger effort Tuesday

night against the Florida Panthers, who are looking to avoid

dropping their fourth straight game.

The Capitals had a chance to move into second in the East on

Monday but suffered a 5-1 loss to Atlanta -- their most lopsided

defeat since a 6-2 setback to Florida on March 1.

Washington -- one point back of second-place New Jersey

(45-20-3) -- had a season-high 50 shots on goal, but only Eric

Fehr's found the back of the net with 1:15 remaining in the

third period. The Capitals, who have a 13-point lead over

second-place Carolina (36-28-7) in the Southeast, are just 1-4-0

when recording 45 or more shots.

Despite all the scoring opportunities, Boudreau was unhappy with

the performance.

"There were some effort issues," he said. "Until we start

learning how to get dirty ... some guys are stuck on a certain

amount of (personal) goals."

Alex Ovechkin, who needs one more goal to reach 50 for the third

time in four seasons, had all 10 of his shots turned aside

Monday as his 10-game point streak (seven goals, seven assists)

ended.

The reigning MVP has not gone consecutive games without a point

since January 6 and 9, and the Capitals are 28-4-2 when he

scores at least one goal.

Ovechkin had a goal with 22 seconds left in Washington's loss to

the Panthers earlier this month and recorded a hat trick in a

4-2 win at Florida on February 15.

Jose Theodore, who was pulled midway through the second period

Monday after allowing four goals on 19 shots, has been in net

for all four games against Florida the season, going 2-2-0 with

a 3.31 goals-against average.

While the Capitals are on the verge of clinching their second

straight division title, the Panthers are in the hunt for one of

the final playoff spots in the East.

Florida, which has not been to the playoffs since 2000, is ninth

in the conference, one point back of eighth-place Carolina and

only four points out of fifth.

The Panthers postseason push has stalled a bit, though. Florida

suffered its third straight defeat with a 4-3 shootout loss to

Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Despite blowing a 3-1 lead with seven minutes remaining in the

third period, the Panthers managed to salvage a point. Florida,

which has not lost four straight games since December 26-31,

also got a point in the first game of its skid -- last Tuesday's

4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh.

"We got a point and we've got to keep moving forward here,"

Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said.

To make the playoffs, Florida needs to take advantage of a

schedule featuring eight of its final 13 regular-season games at

home. The Panthers opened a five-game homestand Sunday and have

alternated wins and losses in their last eight at the

BankAtlantic Center.

"I do think we've got to play better, especially with the teams

we've got coming up here," said David Booth, who has five goals

and four assists during a four-game point streak.

Tomas Vokoun stopped 24 shots against the Lightning, dropping to

1-2-2 with a 3.11 GAA since March 5. He has lost his two starts

against the Capitals this season and is just 1-5-0 with a 2.86

GAA in his last six games against Washington.

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