- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

With two games left in the season, the Capitals were still talking about having something to play for. They do – but that didn’t mean Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan couldn’t get the night off, along with the banged-up Alexander Semin.

At the end of the night, it didn’t matter, as the short-handed and tired Caps cruised past the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Wednesday night despite not playing their best game.

“We’ve played a lot of hockey and it’s a long flight from Toronto and you have to go through customs and you’re home late,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s a little bit of an excuse, but it’s the one I’m using today.”

Thanks to a mostly listless performance from the Panthers, Boudreau’s group didn’t have to play like the top team in the Eastern Conference to pick up two points.

The Caps jumped out to an early lead, managed to take advantage of a weak goaltender and eventually supported Semyon Varlamov enough to roll and stay in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed.

“We had a real big hiccup in the first period. We gave up way too many opportunities, but we had Varly in net and he did a great job keeping us in the game,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “After that, I think we took over and controlled it.”

Once the Caps took over, they asserted their dominance, save for a five-minute stretch in the third period in which Florida scored twice to at least break up Varlamov’s shutout and make things a little interesting. Still, the Caps were in control of the game and the result was never in doubt.

In fact, it was their first game that didn’t require overtime since March 26 at Montreal.

“You play a lot of games and at the same time they’re all going five minutes, at least, over. That’s an added period, and it adds a little more stress,” Boudreau said. “It was good that we were able to finish one in 60 minutes tonight.”

After a day off Thursday and practice Friday, the Caps will settle in to at least check in on Flyers-Sabres on Friday night. If Philadelphia doesn’t win, the Caps will clinch the same No. 1 seed they earned a year ago.

Alternatively, they can also sew it up with one point Saturday at Florida. But it won’t be until after the Philadelphia-Buffalo game that Boudreau and the rest of his staff will decide whether to rest more guys for the regular-season finale.

“I still think we have to wait to see what’s at stake on Saturday before we start taking anything for granted,” Boudreau said. “I’m like you guys; I’m watching the scoreboards and see what’s going on and hopefully get that game over with and focus on what’s ahead of that.”