Beninati: Home fires burning

Beninati: Home fires burning
April 7, 2011, 2:49 am
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011 10:45 p.m.

By Joe Beninati
Capitals Play-by-Play

WASHINGTON -- The Caps finished off the home portion of their regular season in fine style, dropping the Panthers, 5-2 on Wednesday at Verizon. There were long spells in the first period where Florida clearly outplayed Washington, but Semyon Varlamov was very sharp in goal. He finished with 31 saves, 18 of which came in the opening stanza.

My instincts tell me that Bruce Boudreau will choose Michal Neuvirth to man the net when the playoffs begin next week. It has to give the coach comfort to see that Varlamov can remain focused in the meanwhile.

Two power-play goals gave the home team a lead after one. Brooks Laich brought the puck aggressively down the left wing and then found a wide open Mike Knuble for another doorstep tip-in. Knuble has goals in three of his last four outings and is rounding into top form at just the right time.

Nicklas Backstrom was passing the puck with syrupy-smooth precision tonight. He caught Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen anticipating a move behind the net and threaded a perfect pass to Jason Chimera, who was also left unattended for a slam dunk.

Sean Collins would be next on the board. He finished off a 4-on-3 rush up ice by taking a deflected Alex Ovechkin pass and snapping a shot over the glove of Clemmensen. The AHL call-up has come in and played three pretty solid games in the last week, filling in for an ailing Dennis Wideman. Coach Boudreau told the media today to NOT expect Wideman to play in the first round of the postseason, and that they really werent sure when Dennis might return.

Caps fans hoping to see Mike Green in the line-up tonight were disappointed. The high-scoring blueliner is still hopeful to get one game in this Saturday before the chase for the Cup begins.

The Capitals took a 4-0 lead in the third period on a goal by Matt Hendricks. The hard-working winger showed very quick hands as he worked the puck from backhand-to-forehand while standing no more than ten inches from the post and with a defender close by.

Florida hasnt quit in any games against Washington this year and that would remain true tonight. Most observers would agree they didnt deserve to be down by four anyway in this game, and they cut the deficit in half in the final 20 minutes.

David Booth spoiled Varlamovs shutout attempt with a power-play one-timer with 6:16 to play. Mike Santorelli continued his torrid scoring spree against the Caps this year with another goal, with just over 90 seconds left. Santorelli has struck for a goal in four of the five meetings with Washington this season.

The Caps would salt the game away with an empty-net strike from Alex Ovechkin, who produced another three-point effort for himself. Backstrom fed the Great Eight on the tail end of a sublime stickhandling and passing play.

The victory gives the Capitals 107 points in the standings, and leaves Philadelphia no margin for error if it is to chase down Washington for first-place overall in the East. If Philly loses any points on the table, in Buffalo Friday or at home with the Islanders Saturday, the Caps are the top seed. That also is true should the Caps finish their year Saturday with another win in Sunrise, Florida.