The Washington Capitals had nothing to play for entering Saturday's regular season finale against the Florida Panthers. And judging by the result, they understood that.
The Caps could not muster any sort of offense against the Panthers and lost their 11th game via shutout in a 1-0 setback.
With both the Southeast Division and top seed in the Eastern Conference clinched, the Caps decided to rest some of their top forwards, including Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm. The rest of them, however, could not get anything going despite firing 28 shots on Tomas Vokoun, who earned his second shutout of the season against Washington.
After a quiet two and a half periods, the Panthers finally broke the scoreless stalemate on an ugly goal from Bill Thomas. The Capitals lost a defensive zone draw and Thomas' bouncer somehow trickled past Michal Neuvirth (22 saves) to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead with just over six minutes left.
Now that the regular season is over, the Capitals can turn their attention to the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New York Rangers' 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils coupled with the Carolina Hurricanes' 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning means that the Caps will host the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals next week.
There is still no score in Sunrise as the Capitals and Panthers have finished 40 minutes of play.
Michal Neuvirth has made 15 saves, but Tomas Vokoun has made 17 of his own. Florida had 10 shots to Washington's eight in the second period, but once again, there is nothing to show for it.
In Raleigh, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a 4-1 lead over the Carolina Hurricanes late in the second period. With a loss, the Hurricanes will be eliminated and the New York Rangers will face the Caps next week.
There are plenty of meaningful matchups around the NHL Saturday. The game between the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers is not one of them.
A slow first period has ended with the Caps and Panthers deadlocked in a scoreless tie.
Both teams combined for 15 shots with the Caps having nine of them. Each team also had a power play opportunity with nothing to show for it.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, the Tampa Bay Lightning are leading the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 after the first period. A Tampa Bay win would clinch a playoff spot for the New York Rangers, who would become the Caps' first-round opponent.
Green will miss his 20th straight game after leaving February 25's 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers when he took a Derek Stepan elbow to the head. Green, already suffering from a head injury courtesy of a puck to the head February 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, has been skating symptom-free for about three weeks.
It seems almost certain that Green should return next week for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. His return could not come at a better time, considering that fellow defenseman Dennis Wideman will probably miss the first round with a hematoma in his right leg. The Caps, however, haven't played poorly without Green, as they sport a 16-2-1 record in his absence and clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference Friday when the Philadelphia Flyers lost in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres.
The Washington Capitals didn't even have to play Friday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they will have a chance to end the regular season on a high note themselves against the Florida Panthers Saturday in Sunrise.
With the Philadelphia Flyers losing in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres Friday, they were mathematically eliminated from earning the top seed. For the second straight season, the Caps earned the top seed in the conference. Their opponent will be decided Saturday; either the New York Rangers or Carolina Hurricanes will finish eighth and depending on the outcome of their respective games, the Caps will know who they will face in the quarterfinals. A New York regulation loss to the New Jersey Devils or a Carolina win over the Tampa Bay Lightning will eliminate the Rangers.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau was mum in regards to what the lineup would look like Saturday, but Mike Greenshould return to the lineup for the first time since February 25.
The Panthers lost to the Lightning Friday, so if the Cps defeat them Saturday, they will end the season without a win since March 17.