Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, left, of Russia is congratulated by teammate Viktor Kozlov after he scored against the Florida Panthers during third period of NHL hockey game at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, March 29, 2008. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Hans Deryk
SUNRISE, Fla. - The Washington Capitals wrapped up their longest road trip of the season in style, and kept their playoff hopes very much alive in the process.
Cristobal Huet stopped 32 shots for his fourth shutout of the season, and Viktor Kozlov had a goal and two assists as the Capitals continued their playoff push with a 3-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
The Capitals went 5-1 on their road trip and will close the regular season with three home games.
"It was very challenging to go six straight," Huet said. "We're 5-1, we're very happy. We have a couple of days to charge the batteries. It doesn't mean it's going to be easy playing at home, but we look forward to the next game."
Huet, acquired from Montreal at the trading deadline, recorded his second shutout with the Capitals and the 17th of his career. Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin also scored for the Capitals, who have won eight of their last nine.
The victory was the Capitals' 40th this season, the first time since 2000-01 that they reached that mark. Washington now has 88 points, two behind Southeast Division-leading Carolina, Tuesday's opponent.
Washington remained three points behind eighth-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference standings after the Flyers beat the Islanders in a shootout Saturday.
"I know if we keep winning, something good will happen," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We can only do what we can do and if it takes 95 points to make the playoffs, so be it. I believe if we continue to play like we play, somebody is going to falter once and we ll be there to jump on them."
Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves for Florida, which was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by losing in its home finale.
"It doesn't feel very good," Florida centre Stephen Weiss said. "You play 82 games to make the playoffs, to win the Stanley Cup. You put a lot of effort into it. When you don't make the playoffs, it's very disappointing."
The Panthers dropped their third consecutive game after going 8-0-1 at the start of March. They entered Tuesday's game three points out of eighth place before losing those three games while scoring only three goals. Saturday's effort on Fan Appreciation Night might have been their worst, and it drew some boos from the home crowd.
"It's tough, it's pretty frustrating for our fans," captain Olli Jokinen said. "They've been very supportive and they've still been coming to the games. Can't really expect to have a standing ovation there, either."
Huet's best stop came early in the second period when the game was still scoreless. With Washington on the power play, Jozef Stumpel had a breakaway, but Huet made a pad save on his wrist shot.
"He's a good breakaway guy and he's scored on me in the power play," Huet said. "I challenge him a lot. He shot it and I was fortunate it got a piece of my glove."
Kozlov opened the scoring at 2:48 of the second period, thanks in part to a lucky bounce.
Capitals centre Brooks Laich had the puck poked away from him in the Florida zone, but it bounced off the skate of Panthers wing David Booth and went right to Kozlov in the slot. Kozlov fired a one-timer that beat Vokoun high on the glove side.
Green added to the lead at 14:42 of the second when he one-timed Ovechkin's pass across the crease. It was Green's first goal in 14 games.
"It doesn't seem to be going in lately," Green said. "It was great to get an open net. That always helps to set things up. It was a great pass by Ovechkin."
Ovechkin scored his league-leading 62nd goal at 11:32 of the third period when he beat three Florida players to a loose puck and fired a wrist shot from close range.
"We had chances to score and we didn't, and they capitalized on their chances," Booth said. "It just wasn't good enough. It hurts to finish the year at home like that."
Notes: Florida leads the season series 4-3. The teams meet again next Saturday at Washington. ... The Panthers finished 18-20-1 at home, their lowest victory total at the BankAtlantic Center since they won 16 games in 2003-04. ... Florida is 7-3-1-3 in regular-season home finales. ... Florida LW Ville Peltonen returned after missing two games because of a toe injury. ... Washington C David Steckel missed his 11th consecutive game because of a broken finger. ... Florida killed off six power plays, extending its streak of successful short-handed efforts to 22.
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