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.