Washington lost 1-0 to the Florida Panthers in an underwhelming regular season finale that meant nothing where the standings were concerned. Players admitted they were looking ahead to the playoffs, particularly now that they have an opponent to prepare for in the New York Rangers.

Thanks to the Carolina Hurricanes’ 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night, the Rangers clinched the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and set up a first-round showdown with the Capitals. Game dates and times will be officially announced on Monday, according to a team spokesman.

Regardless of the opponent, though, this is the time Washington has been waiting for ever since the Montreal Canadiens knocked them out in seven games last spring.

“I think we’re all excited,” winger Mike Knuble said. “Everything that we wanted to get to — that we wanted to fast-forward to at the end of last season is here. I think as a group we’re really looking forward to this week of preparation and knowing who we’re going to play.”

For his part, Coach Bruce Boudreau has been itching to finally know what lone opponent he needed to prepare for, and it’s safe to say he’s probably already started scheming on the team’s flight back to Washington tonight.

“Let’s get in and watch video right away and see what they’ve changed, if they’ve changed anything,” Boudreau said of the first thing that goes through his mind now that he can shift to playoff mode. “Let’s go over the games that they beat us and see what we did wrong and let’s get prepared. We’ve got three days probably.”

All season the Capitals have talked about redeeming themselves from last year’s early postseason exit. The question of seeking redemption against the Rangers specifically — after New York pummeled the Capitals twice in the regular season to the tune of 7-0 and 6-0 wins — was posed after the loss to Florida.

While the Capitals want to perform much better against the Rangers than they did over the course of this season, the focus is on attaining that greater goal and proving the 2010 exit was an anomaly.

“Our only redemption is for ourselves and for our group and trying to be better than we were last year. That’s the biggest motivator we have,” Knuble said. “I think we’re a different team than we were a year ago. We’re more experienced, we’ve got some more vet­eran guys in our lineup so I’m looking forward to seeing how we’re going to do.

“I don’t think it’s going to be like cross your fingers and hope for the best,” Knuble continued. “I think we’re going to be very methodical and hard to play against and a steady team.”

More to come on Sunday and in the next several days on the Rangers, but to get you started here’s the preview from earlier in the week on New York.