Capitals at Panthers: Yep, this one's big

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SUNRISE, Fla. | There’s really no such thing as a must-win hockey game in the middle of February. Friday night’s matchup at the Florida Panthers just seems like it for the Washington Capitals.

“It’s a big playoff game,” coach Dale Hunter said earlier this week. “We all know what’s at stake here against Florida.”

That’s because the math says so. A win would put the Caps two back of first place in the Southeast Division. A loss would put them six back with 25 games to go. That’s not an impossible leap by any means, but it starts to look difficult.

Defenseman Dennis Wideman admitted he tries not to think long-term.

“If you start looking at how many points you need total and how many games you might have to win in a month or something like that, it can seem a little bit overwhelming,” he said.

It gets more overwhelming with every defeat. The Winnipeg Jets’ victory Thursday night put them just one point back of the Caps for second place.

So, yeah, Friday night is a big game.

“I would say every game is important, especially in a time right now with the way we’re playing. We know they’re four points ahead of us and we just have to play good, solid 60 minutes road game,” defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “Every day it’s the same thing. Stay off the box, try to score first two goals or first one goal and play with some confidence early in the game. That’s the way we’re going to win some hockey games on the road.”

Added right wing Troy Brouwer: “Every game has been important for a long time.”

Especially given how the Caps have played at BankAtlantic Center this year. They’re 0-2 in this building with a couple lackluster performances.

“It’s just remembering that, remembering that it was not a very good performance by us last time, knowing that we don’t want to go down to the last game and have a team lose for us to be in or some sort of situation like that,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

And after this one, the Caps have three more on the road.

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