(CBSSports) – With growing confidence, the Washington Capitals are playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Their current surge began against the Florida Panthers, and the Capitals can continue it by beating them yet again Thursday night and recording a seventh straight home victory in the series.
Though Washington (9-11-1) and Florida (7-11-5) are tied for last in the Eastern Conference with 19 points, the Panthers have lost 10 of 13 while the Capitals have won seven of 10 since a 2-8-1 start.
Eric Fehr had two assists and scored while falling to the ice 37 seconds into overtime to help Washington overcome a three-goal deficit in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Boston.
“I think it says a lot about our character,” said Fehr, who recorded his first three-point game in five years. “This team believes in ourselves a lot more than we did in the beginning of the season. We’re a pretty confident bunch right now and we believe in the system. We’re playing together as a team.”
The Capitals averaged 2.3 goals and yielded 3.7 per game through the first 11, but have scored 3.4 and allowed 2.1 per contest in the last 10. Braden Holtby, who has two shutouts in his last four starts, gave up three first-period goals on nine shots against the Bruins but stopped all 24 the rest of the way.
“We know how important it is to string some wins together,” Fehr said. “To come back against a team that good means a lot, and hopefully we can keep going.”
Washington’s turnaround started with an 11-goal outburst during a home-and-home sweep of Florida on Feb. 9 and 12. Winners of five straight overall in the series, the Capitals are 15-4-1 in the past 20 meetings with victories in nine of 10 at Washington. The Panthers have lost their last six visits by a 24-6 score, getting shut out in three of the past four.
Holtby, who has started 10 in a row, stopped 27 shots in a 5-0 home victory over the Panthers last month and survived a 6-5 overtime win at Florida three days later.
Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom had two assists in that latest matchup and has 10 over his past nine games.
Three of Troy Brouwer’s team-high nine goals have come against the Panthers, but it’s uncertain if an illness will keep him out a second straight contest Thursday.
Though the Panthers will again be without a number of injured key players, they look to build on Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Winnipeg. Jonathan Huberdeau scored his team-leading 11th goal on a penalty shot, and Jacob Markstrom made 30 saves to help Florida end a three-game losing streak.
“Every single guy in this lineup worked as hard as they could and it showed pretty much the whole game,” forward Shawn Matthias told the Panthers’ official website. “We worked the corners and battled for pucks and that’s how we’re going to be successful here. It felt good winning and we have to keep this going now.”
The Panthers must do that minus veteran forward Stephen Weiss, who will undergo season-ending wrist injury. Goaltender Jose Theodore, forwards Kris Versteeg and Scottie Upshall, and defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Mike Weaver and Ed Jovanovski are also out.
Markstrom, 1-2-0 with a 2.36 GAA, is expected to see a majority of the time with Theodore (leg) sidelined four to six weeks.
Huberdeau, who scored twice in the overtime loss to Washington, has three goals in two games after going pointless in five straight.
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