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Capitals Suffer a Listless Ending

Rangers Up Next In the Postseason: Panthers 7, Capitals 4

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009; Page D01

SUNRISE, Fla., April 11 -- Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau wanted his players to accomplish three things in tonight's regular season finale: put forth an inspired effort, set the franchise record for wins and leave BankAtlantic Center without suffering any injuries.

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Well, at least they'll be healthy in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals next week.

The Capitals surrendered four goals in the third period, including two in a span of eight seconds, on their way to a humbling 7-4 loss to a Florida Panthers team that will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

On a night when their defense abandoned them, their goaltender struggled with routine shots and the overall effort level ebbed and flowed, at least the Capitals now know which team they'll face in the first round of the playoffs. It will be the New York Rangers, who clinched the seventh seed when the Montreal Canadiens lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1. The Canadiens will be seeded eighth and face the Boston Bruins.

"I just have a hard time -- just never being able to stick in the NHL, knowing how much I would have given to play," Boudreau said when asked if he was disappointed in his team's energy level. "Defensively, we were so out of whack. What were the shots, 42-41, or something stupid. But it's over and I'm not going to dwell on this game. Hopefully we'll be a lot better come next week."

Goaltender José Theodore yielded six goals on 41 shots and had an especially tough third period.

Alex Ovechkin tied the score at 4 when he beat Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun on a semi-breakaway with 6 minutes 51 seconds remaining in the game.

But Florida regained the lead, 5-4, on the next shift when Panthers defenseman Steve Eminger capitalized on yet another odd-man rush, finishing the play by deking Theodore and slipping the puck between the goalie's skate and the goal post.

Before Theodore and his teammates could regroup, the Panthers were ahead 6-4. Eight seconds after Eminger's goal, Michael Frolik had fired a rebound into the Washington net. Grinder Nick Tarnasky added to the Capitals' misery by scoring his first goal of the season into an empty net with nine seconds remaining. The 18,527 then began hurling toy rats onto the ice, a Florida tradition dating from 1996.

Asked what was worse, the sloppy defense or Theodore, Boudreau said: "It was a combination. We had two-on-ones in the third period. We tied it up with five minutes to go and we end up losing 7-4. That's unheard of. There was an awful lot of breakdowns."

The loss left the Capitals one win short of setting the franchise record for victories. They finished the regular season tied with 50. Ovechkin, meantime, finished second to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in his bid for a second straight scoring title, 113-110. Ovechkin did, however, match his career best for assists with 54.

Alexander Semin had two goals and an assist and Brooks Laich kept his hot streak going. It wasn't enough in a game where too many of their teammates took too many shifts off, perhaps looking ahead to the postseason.

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