For the first time since he left the Florida Panthers this offseason, Tomas Vokoun will face his old club in BankAtlantic Center and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Washington enters this contest trailing the Southeast Division leading Panthers by four points, out of a playoff spot by three points and leading 10th place Winnipeg by one. This game will help set the tone at the start of a four-game road trip that weighs heavily on the Capitals’ playoff hopes, and there’s no need to remind the veteran netminder of that.

“It’s a huge game for us, obviously we need to win,” said Vokoun, who spent the previous four seasons as a Panther. “That’s how I look at it. It doesn’t really matter to me who’s the opponent today; you need to win. We’re in desperate mode we need to win we need points.”

Vokoun’s family – his wife Dagmar and school-age daughters Adelle and Natalie – will be in attendance tonight as the 35-year-old returns to action after battling the flu earlier in the week. Vokoun missed games against the Rangers and Sharks on Sunday and Monday with the illness but has now skated for four consecutive days and after the morning skate in Sunrise, Fla., said “I feel as good as I could”.

In two appearances against the Panthers this season, both at Verizon Center, Vokoun has shut out his former squad. He made 20 saves in a 3-0 shutout victory back on Oct. 18 and more recently on Feb. 7 he thwarted 42 shots by the Panthers en route to a 4-0 win.

Vokoun didn’t make much of Coach Dale Hunter opting to start him in Florida in the third trip here this season, reiterating that it’s not his decision when he plays. That said, Vokoun is glad for the show of confidence.

“It’s a big game you hope they have the confidence to start you in a situation like that, that’s pretty much as far as I take it,” Vokoun said. “We need two points, I think both teams can agree on that and everybody else — it’s huge two points. It’s either two point separation or [six] point separation that’s a big difference.”

While Vokoun makes his first start in Sunrise, Fla., since departing the Panthers, Jose Theodore is expected to make his first appearance against Washington since he left the organization as a free agent following the 2009-10 season.

Theodore has been in and out of the Panthers’ lineup this season with knee injuries but is expected to see significant playing time down the stretch as the team looks to solidify a playoff position. In 33 appearances this year he’s gone 15-9-5 with a .917 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average. His most recent appearance was a relief outing, after Scott Clemmensen was pulled Wednesday against Ottawa, and Theodore allowed two goals on 15 shots in a 6-2 loss.


Capitals have to start winning — now

Notes from morning skate