Capitals’ Vokoun shuts out Panthers: ‘We don’t want to be a bubble team’

Greg Wyshynski

WASHINGTON, DC — Washington Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun doesn't watch the standings. "I don't," he said. "For me it doesn't matter if I'm last or first, every game I do the same."

Of course, there are those games for which a starting goalie pays extra attention. Like a battle for first in the Southeast Division, against his former team the Florida Panthers.

"If we lose the game, we're three points behind them with one game in hand on us. Losing at home would have been confidence discouraging," said Vokoun, who made 42 saves in the Capitals' 4-0 win over the Panthers on Tuesday night.

Playing what amounts to a playoff game in early February used to be a rarity for the Capitals in their division. They were up 12 points on Carolina in 2009 on Feb. 7, and up 27 on the Lightning in 2010. But last season, they trailed Tampa Bay by three points on Feb. 7 and entered this game down a point to the Panthers for the Southeast lead.

"We don't want to be a bubble team. It's not going to be easy. Every game is going to be tough. We want to win our division," said Vokoun.

The Capitals netminder has done his part: Shutting out the Panthers in both games he's played against them in D.C., having previously made 20 saves in a 3-0 Oct. 18 win.

In this victory, some of his best work came shorthanded, turning away 10 shots as the League's 21st penalty kill (81.2 percent entering the game) stopped the NHL's eighth-best power play (19.0 percent).

"He's always our biggest penalty killer, and he was tonight," said forward Jason Chimera, who scored a shorthanded goal to make it a 3-0 game early in the second.

Vokoun said the speed of the Panthers' power play provided a challenge.

"I was surprised by how good they were moving the puck. It was pretty tough for me on those cross-ice passes. You gotta move. But we didn't give them too many. When you keep [the power plays] three and under it's a pretty good game."

Another game, another shutout against his former team. Although Vokoun concedes that a summer of personnel changes made the Panthers almost unrecognizable to him.

"It's a different team. Different coaches, different everything," he said. "It's nice, I won't lie to you. But it's not really my former team. I didn't leave in a bad way. It was my decision. I want to be in front of them in the standings, but I definitely don't hold any grudges."