WASHINGTON – Capitals coach Dale Hunter said if a regular season game should be treated like the postseason, well, Tuesday's game was the one to do it.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen added that his veteran players “can count, look at the paper and know what the deal is'' when looking at the division and conference standings.
One team got the message on Tuesday – and it wasn't the Panthers.
Florida don't have a spot in the playoffs right now after Washington ran away with a 4-0 win at Verizon Center. The Capitals took a one point lead on the Panthers in the Southeast Division as Florida lost its second straight and fell to ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers have been outscored 10-3 in losses at Tampa Bay and Washington.
“We got beat by the better team,'' Dineen said postgame. “They were the better team and we need to recognize that, fess up and know our game has to improve as we move forward. .-.-.
"What are you going to do? I don't think anyone feels sorry for us. This is NHL hockey. It's the best league in the world. You have to understand that when you get a good tail kicking, you recognize it and get better for the next one.''
The way the east is looking, the runner-up in the Southeast Division is probably going to be outside the playoffs. By the way the Panthers have played their past two games, that doesn't bode well for Florida's hope to end a NHL-record 10 seasons outside the playoffs.
Florida is two points back of Ottawa for the eighth and final postseason spot and have played three fewer games.
“I can't see why anyone's confidence wouldn't be there,'' Kris Versteeg said. “We were still clawing in this one for a while.''
Washington, which had lost five of seven coming in, took control from the start as Mathieu Parreault snapped a shot past Scott Clemmensen a mere 13 seconds into the game. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 after scoring on a breakaway with Marcel Goc in the penalty box midway through the period.
Florida had a number of scoring chances in the first – including John Madden missing an empty net and Tomas Vokoun stopping Shawn Matthias on a breakaway. But the Panthers failed to find a way to beat their former goalie as Vokoun is now 2-0 against the Panthers since leaving the team as a free agent in July.
The Capitals made it 3-0 when Jason Chimera tapped a loose puck into the net early in the second while Florida was on a power play chance. Ovechkin, who was suspended for Florida's 4-2 win in Sunrise last Wednesday, scored midway through the second to end Washington's scoring.
The Panthers took 42 shots at Vokoun as he shutout the Cats for the second time this season.
“It was a big game and obviously they were ahead of us,'' said Vokoun, who has four shutouts this season and 48 in his career. “It was a very desperate situation, but we came out great, scored a goal 13 seconds in and that was big – especially at home, get the fans going.
"We have a great first period. They get a lot of shots, but we were able to score a few goals, and it's a little easier to play when you know you're not so pressed about making a mistake and you have a few goals in the bank.''
() With the Panthers being delayed coming out of Fort Lauderdale by more than two hours on Monday, it was probably a good idea that Dineen left goalie Jose Theodore at home.
Theodore, who has been doing on-ice workouts, didn't have to hang out on the team charter as it sat near the runway while mechanics and technicians worked on the plane.
Dineen said Theodore was to skate in South Florida on Tuesday and should be on the ice Wednesday whether or not the Panthers hold a practice session.
Theodore suffered a minor knee injury after being run over by teammate Dmitry Kulikov and Montreal's Mike Blunden on Dec. 31. Theodore returned to play in two games last month but has been out since.
The Panthers would like to have Theodore back for this weekend's back-to-back series against the host Devils and Islanders.
“He's getting close, but if he wasn't going to play [Tuesday], he was better off staying at home,'' Dineen said. “We had a bit of a tough day, some technical difficulties with the plane. That happens.''