Capitals-Panthers Preview


Alexander Ovechkin deservedly receives plenty of attention as the reigning Hart Trophy winner and current NHL goals leader, but he contends that center Nicklas Backstrom is just as important to the Washington Capitals' success.

The Florida Panthers likely won't dispute that notion.

Visiting Washington seeks a fourth straight victory and ninth in a row over the Panthers on Friday night.

Ovechkin was at his best Tuesday, scoring four goals and tying the game with 32.4 seconds remaining in a 6-5 win over Tampa Bay. He scored twice with the man advantage to pass Peter Bondra for the franchise lead with 138 power-play goals.

''He's a pure sniper,'' coach Adam Oates said. ''The fourth goal, with the ice conditions at that time, that's an incredible shot. That's why he's a superstar.''

Ovechkin, who won his third career MVP with a league-best 32 goals in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, has scored 26 times this season. He attributes some of that success to Backstrom, who assisted on all of Ovechkin's goals Tuesday while netting a goal of his own to tie his career high with five points.

"He's a leader and one of our best players," Ovechkin said. "He probably deserves more attention, but it's all about (us) being on the (same) page."

Ovechkin believes that the pair, which has been together since Backstrom's rookie season of 2007-08, can be even better. Backstrom has assisted on Ovechkin's last five tallies, but the two hadn't combined for a goal since Nov. 17 prior to that stretch.

"We win a couple of games and then everyone thinks the chemistry is back and everything is OK," Ovechkin said. "We're working hard. We're trying to do what's best for the team and for our success. We've been together since his first year. I don't think any (two players) on this team have the same chemistry (as us)."

With Ovechkin out with an upper-body injury Nov. 2, Backstrom scored in regulation and added another goal in the shootout to help Washington beat Florida 3-2.

Ovechkin has scored in his last seven meetings with the Panthers, totaling 10 goals and four assists, including a hat trick April 6. Backstrom has a goal and six assists in the past four matchups with Florida, winner of three of four after a 3-2 shootout win over Detroit on Tuesday.

Nick Bjugstad and Sean Bergenheim scored in regulation for the Panthers (10-17-5), and Brad Boyes tallied the winner in the tiebreaker after being a healthy scratch in a 6-2 loss to Chicago on Sunday.

''It's good to contribute whichever way I can,'' Boyes said. ''If shootout is the way to do it, I'm happy with that.''

Tim Thomas made 24 saves for Florida, which trailed 2-0 entering the third period against the Red Wings.

''All it comes down to is, we needed to go in the third period and score early, get the momentum,'' interim coach Peter Horachek said. ''It's about winning 60 minutes. It's not about winning the first or the second.''

Thomas has won his last three starts with a 1.62 goals-against average and could be in net for this contest. The last time he faced the Capitals was with Boston in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, posting a 2.14 GAA in the seven-game loss.

Washington could go with Braden Holtby, who has won each of his five career starts with a 2.40 GAA against the Panthers.