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Florida Panthers Back in Washington for ‘Biggest Game of the Season’

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Florida Panthers center Sasha Barkov greets Washington captain Alex Ovechkin after Game 6 of their first-round series on May 13. Ovechkin will miss tonight’s game following the death of his father Mikhail. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Florida Panthers are back in Washington for the first time since they ended the Capitals season with a win in Game 6 of their first-round series last May.

The Capitals now have the opportunity to return the favor.

Florida comes into Thursday night desperately needing a win against the Capitals as it is two points back of Washington for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers know how big this game is.

“It is the biggest game of the season, for sure,” Radko Gudas said after the Panthers lost 6-2 to the Blues on Tuesday night. “It comes down to these games, these conference games which mean a lot. I think everyone is going to look forward to that. Games with a lot of meaning are always fun to play.”

As for the Capitals, well, they have a lot going on right now.

Washington will be without captain Alex Ovechkin for the second consecutive game following the death of his father Mikhail.

On Tuesday, the team announced Ovechkin would be away from the team to deal with the illness within in his family; on Wednesday, Ovechkin posted news about his father’s passing.

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“We’re part of a family here in this locker room,” Matt Irwin said per Washington Hockey Now.

“We’re thinking about him, he’s a huge part of our team, the best thing for what I think O would want for us is to win some hockey games while he’s gone… that’s how we can support him on the ice. But obviously, we’re all supporting him off the ice and really thinking about him and his family right now.”

Washington, like the Panthers, come into Thursday following a loss.

After a lackluster loss to the Sharks on Sunday, Washington played a tough one against the Carolina Hurricanes — a team they play this weekend at the NC State football stadium.

The Panthers may not be overlooking the Capitals and, with losses in its past two, don’t expect Washington to overlook the Panthers, either.

“We just have to get rested, get right and the emotions should carry us through that game,” Paul Maurice said.

Florida is 1-0 against the Capitals with two games remaining — both in Washington — this season.

The last time these two met in Sunrise, Florida won 5-2 in a game much closer than the final score.

Last spring, the Panthers trailed 2-1 in the series when Washington missed an empty net — only to have Sam Reinhart score on the next shift to tie it with 2:04 remaining.

Carter Verhaeghe scored in overtime and the Panthers had new life in the series.

Down 2-1, the Panthers did not lose another game against the Caps as Verhaeghe ended up with six goals and 12 points in the six games.

They hope to keep their winning streak going against Washington.

“It is a four-point swing, almost like a playoff game,” said Verhaeghe, who had two goals against the Capitals back in November. “We are making a playoff push and they are right ahead of us. It is a huge game. We have to be ready and I think we will be ready.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

 FLORIDA PANTHERS AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Panthers won 2-1 (d. Capitals 4-2 in first round)
  • This season (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 5, Capitals 2 (Nov. 15)
  • All-time regular season series: Washington leads 67-44-12, 9 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Nashville, 2 p.m.

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