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East update: Panthers, Capitals clinch playoffs; Sabres are done

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Thursday night ended up being bittersweet for the Florida Panthers, bitter for the Buffalo Sabres and just plain sweet for the Washington Capitals.

With the Capitals’ 4-2 win against the Panthers and the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2-1 regulation victory against Buffalo, this much is clear:

1. The Sabres have been eliminated from the playoffs.
2. The Panthers are officially in the postseason for the first time since 2000 – the longest playoff drought in NHL history.
3. The Capitals will capture at least the eighth seed.

Point No. 3 is the most interesting because of what hasn’t been settled. In a made-for-TV blessing, the Capitals can wrestle the Southeast Division title from the Panthers if they get any sort of win and the Panthers lose in regulation on Saturday (the last night of the season).

The Capitals might actually feel more comfortable facing a team they’ve booted from the playoffs twice in the Ovechkin era in the No. 1 seed New York Rangers, but a seventh seed – and thus a match with the defending Stanley Cup champions the Boston Bruins – is still plausible if Washington wins and Ottawa doesn’t register another point.

Either way, Washington shook off a disturbing Michal Neuvirth injury when they only had a 1-0 lead to build it to 3-0. The Panthers found a way to get back into the game with two goals but Alex Semin scored a late insurance backhander as a power play expired to put it out of reach at 4-2.

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Meanwhile, the Sabres face a summer of “What if?” questions, beginning perhaps with giving up a slim 1-0 lead to the Flyers. Philly certainly isn’t an easy draw, but Ryan Miller & Co. must live with the fact that the orange and black ended their season two years in a row. (This time before the playoffs.)

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Oh, and if you’re into somewhat-ridiculous comparisons between Brooks Laich’s guarantee and Mark Messier’s famous one, guess who scored tonight’s game-winner? Brooks Laich.

Here’s a video update of what the East standings look like after a big night:

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Report: Ekblad cleared by Panthers doctors

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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Aaron Ekblad has been medically cleared by Florida Panthers doctors, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

That’s a big relief for everyone involved after Ekblad was injured while representing Team North America in the World Cup. The injury was originally reported as a “mild” concussion, though it was later called a neck injury.

The 20-year-old has since been back on the ice working out.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said. “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

The first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Eklbad had already dealt with at least one concussion during his playing career. He suffered one in an international exhibition game during the summer of 2014, just prior to his outstanding rookie season with the Panthers.

Ottawa sends Brown, 11th overall draft pick, back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Logan Brown celebrates with the Ottawa Senators after being selected 11th overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It didn’t take long for one of the top picks at this year’s draft to be sent packing from training camp.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced that Logan Brown — the 11th overall selection in June — has been sent back to his junior team in OHL Windsor.

Brown, the son of ex-NHL defenseman Jeff Brown, played in Monday’s exhibition win over Toronto and scored once. He didn’t play in Tuesday’s OT loss to Buffalo.

Though he wasn’t expected to make the team this season, Brown, 18, is considered to be a high-end prospect, which makes his early dismissal a bit curious.

At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he has terrific size and the Sens wasted little time locking him in after the draft, signing him to a three-year, entry-level deal in August.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Logan Brown

Seidenberg expected to sign with Islanders

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Dennis Seidenberg is expected to sign with the New York Islanders after the World Cup, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

It’s a one-year, $1 million deal, per Dreger.

Seidenberg is currently playing a significant role for Team Europe, a surprise finalist against the heavily favored Canadians.

The 35-year-old defenseman was unexpectedly bought out by the Boston Bruins over the summer. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $4 million.

Seidenberg was a key part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup champion team in 2011, but injuries limited him to just 61 games last season, and his average ice time fell below 20 minutes for the first time since he was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08.

He’ll likely take on a bottom-pairing role with the Islanders, below Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. He may even be the extra defenseman, pushing the likes of Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield for a spot in the lineup.

Related: Seidenberg shocked by Bruins’ decision

Devils bolster defense, ink Quincey to one-year, $1.25M deal

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New Jersey needed some blueline depth after this summer’s blockbuster Adam Larsson-for-Taylor Hall trade and now, they’ve addressed it.

On Wednesday, GM Ray Shero announced the club signed veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey to a one-year, $1.25 million deal.

Quincey, 31, spent the last four seasons in Detroit, emerging as a regular fixture on defense — but ’15-16 was hardly a positive campaign.

He missed 35 games with a serious ankle injury and, upon his return, never seemed to find his way into head coach Jeff Blashill’s good graces.

Blashill even scratched Quincey in Game 3 of Detroit’s opening-round playoff loss to Tampa, and didn’t provide a reason why — a pretty bold move for a player that, in ’13-14, appeared in all 82 games for the Red Wings, averaging nearly 21 minutes per night.

Overall, this move seems like a pretty reasonable gamble from the Devils. Quincey has his flaws, but the term is short and the money is relatively low.

(Especially considering Quincey’s coming off a two-year, $8.5 million deal that paid $4.25M annually.)

Shero could end up getting a nice return on his investment. Quincey projects  to challenge for top-four minutes in New Jersey, looking to break into a group that features the likes of Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore and Ben Lovejoy.

Jon Merrill, Steve Santini and Brandon Gormley are also in that mix, though likely to be challenging for spots on the bottom pair.