Capitals move closer to top seed in East

Capitals move closer to top seed in East
April 7, 2011, 1:38 am
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Thursday, April 7, 2011, 1:15 a.m.

By Ryan O'Halloran
Staff writer
CSNwashington.comWASHINGTON -- Brooks Laich moved to defense.Scott Hannan was a spectator for the first time in four-plus months.Sean Collins played a regular shift a few days after being summoned from the minors.And Semyon Varlamov won for only the second time since late February.Yes, it was a different kind of night for the Capitals on Wednesday. Several players who will play major minutes in next weeks playoff opener didnt dress against the Florida Panthers, allowingforcing coach Bruce Boudreau to juggle his lineup.The end result was a 5-2 win over the Panthers in the regular season home finale at Verizon Center, a victory marred by a choppy first period but highlighted by Varlamovs steady play and a three-point night from Alex Ovechkin.The Capitals have 107 points to lead the Eastern Conference with one game remaining (Saturday at Florida). Philadelphia is four points back with two games left.If the playoffs started Thursday, the Capitals would face the New York Rangers in a rematch of the teams 2009 first-round, seven-game series."We still have work to do," Laich said. "We have a goal in mind of wrapping up the conference and were not there yet. Well prepare for Saturdays game and then do some scoreboard watching to see who well play."The possible opponents are the Rangers, Buffalo and Montreal, and Carolina (ninth in the East) remains in the picture.The Capitals won despite playing without Hannan, fellow defensemen Mike Green, Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti, center Jason Arnott and winger Alexander Semin. Some sat out due to injuries, some sat due to veteran maintenance. Boudreau said the standings will dictate his lineup plan on Saturday.Filling the void were Ovechkin (goal, two assists), Laich and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists apiece) and Collins, who scored his second career goal.Despite the offense, it was Varlamov who kept the Capitals afloat during a first period that saw Florida outshoot Washington 18-6, but the Capitals leading 2-0 on power-play makers by Mike Knuble (at 1:20 on a fine feed from Laich) and Jason Chimera (at 19:23 on a perfect pass by Backstrom).The Capitals considered themselves fortunate to be leading after the first.Knuble: "They outworked us. Were lucky it didnt cost us. After the first, we came back into the locker room and we didnt sugarcoat anything."Boudreau: "We werent very good."Winger Matt Hendricks: "We didnt have that work ethic."Varlamov turned each first-period shot and finished with 31 saves for his first win since Feb. 20 at Buffalo."He kept us in it in the first period," Boudreau said. "If it wasnt for Varly, it would have probably been 3-1 Panthers and we would have had to expend an awful lot of energy to come back."The Capitals were slightly better over the last two periods and extended the lead to 4-0 on goals by Collins and Hendricks. Florida scored two goals in the final seven minutes before Ovechkin posted an empty-netter.The win was Washingtons first in regular time after four straight overtime contests."Its nice to get a regulation win," Knuble said. "We kept chipping away and kept at it and kept pressuring and we got better as we went along."Contact OHalloran at