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Posted at 06:27 PM ET, 04/09/2011

Capitals’ first-round opponent to be determined

While the Capitals may not need a victory or two points against the Panthers tonight at BankAtlantic Center because they will remain as the top seed in the Eastern Conference regardless of the outcome, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to add another regular season win to the board.

Washington will also have to wait until late tonight to see whom they will face in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The New York Rangers won their matinee meeting against New Jersey 5-2 and by doing so put the pressure on Carolina to capture two points tonight to get in.

The Hurricanes face Tampa Bay, which already has a playoff spot wrapped up, and can clinch with any type of victory because even though they are tied in non-shootout wins with the Rangers (35 each) they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The need for Carolina to lose at least one point to clinch a berth for the Rangers could be heard on the television broadcasts from Madison Square Garden, where the New York crowd was chanting “Let’s go Lightning” as the contest wound down.

It won’t be a purely scoreboard-watching night for the Capitals, though. The regular season finale will be something of a tune up but extending their winning streak to five straight games before the post season can’t hurt.

“Aesthetically it looks better going in on a five-game winning streak,” Cach Bruce Boudreau said. “But I don’t think in the overall scheme of things that it would make a difference next Wednesday on what you do today. We’re a group, we want to win every game we play. Every time we have a competition, we want to win. It’s a thing that’s born into you, I guess. We want to win tonight.”

D.J. King and Tyler Sloan were the only skaters still on the ice for extra work this morning with the assistant coaches, but Boudreau did say the Capitals would rest some players tonight against Florida. Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the start in goal against the Panthers.

Even if a few players get the night off, the Capitals don’t want to get ahead of themselves. Claiming the No. 1 seed in the East is nice, but it’s not the priority – playing the right way is.

The top seed “is just one of those things that, yeah it’s nice but it shouldn’t mean that much right now. Maybe it will help us a little bit down the road, but we’re just focused on what’s coming up in the near future,” said John Carlson, who didn’t look at tonight’s tilt as an exhibition game of sorts. “Any time that we have 20 players in the lineup we expect to play good, no matter who they are. That’s the standard we’ve set for ourselves. We want to win tonight.”

By  |  06:27 PM ET, 04/09/2011

 
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