MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When the Florida Panthers take the ice Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals, it’s not a stretch to say the game is a must-win for the Cats.

Florida has been in first place in the southeast division for more than two months, but leads the Capitals by only one point heading into Tuesday’s matchup.

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With just 31 games left before the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Panthers can either give themselves a three-point lead over Washington with a victory, or end up trailing the Capitals with a loss in regulation.

“It’s a big game for us,” coach Kevin Dineen told the Panthers’ official website. “We were disappointed with the outcome and our overall consistent effort in Tampa, so we’re looking at this as a very important game to really get us going for the stretch run.”

Florida’s start, 24-16-11, is the franchise’s best mark since going 29-15-4-3 in 1999-2000, which coincidentally was the last time the team made the playoffs, according to CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald.

Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen allowed a season-high five goals and was pulled in Saturday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, dropping him to 3-2-2 with a 2.66 goals-against average in his last seven starts. Former Capital Jose Theodore is nursing a knee injury.

A loss on Tuesday would have ramifications beyond just the southeast division. Currently, Florida is third in the Eastern Conference based on leading their division.

If they drop to second place in the southeast, they have so few points that it would knock them out of the playoffs.

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In other words, for the Panthers to make the playoffs, their best bet is to capture the division.

Otherwise, they will have to do a lot of damage in the 13 games they have left against teams with more points than them and hope those teams also begin to lose.

History isn’t on the Panthers’ side heading into Washington. The Capitals are 6-1-0 against the Panthers in the last seven games in Washington, according to the Herald.

The Capitals beat the Panthers 3-0 in Washington on Oct. 18, as former Panther Tomas Vokoun made 20 saves.

Vokoun, who signed with the Capitals prior to this season, made 26 saves Sunday, and it’s unclear if he’ll be in net against his former team.

Alex Ovechkin missed the most recent meeting while serving the last of a three-game suspension. He has eight goals and 11 assists in his last 16 games against the Panthers.

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