Tag: Eastern Conference playoff bubble

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Panthers cough up chance to clinch Southeast, playoffs


There aren’t many sports that allow you to “back into” a third seed, but the Florida Panthers might just do that with the Southeast Division this season. They keep inching toward that mark and/or their first playoff berth in more than a decade, but they’re earning virtually zero style points (not to mention tempting the jinxing gods.)

At first, it seemed like they were ready to cruise to an exciting destination as they opened up a 3-0 lead against a Winnipeg Jets team that had every excuse to fold – especially on the road.

Blame it on “playing not to lose,” just not being good enough or any number of other factors, but the bottom line is that the Jets took over the scoring after Tomas Fleischmann made it 3-0 just 25 seconds in the second period. Winnipeg collected two goals to end the middle frame and then scored two goals within four minutes of the third period to make it 4-3. On the bright side, the Panthers squeezed another charity point out of the game as Tomas Kopecky scored the game-tying goal but Andrew Ladd’s OT winner has to be tough to swallow.

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Well, unless you’re the team that ends up with the East’s sixth seed, that is. In that case, you’re probably licking your chops.

Southeast showdown

This sets up a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to unseat the Panthers for the Southeast title. Florida only needs a point to clinch a playoff spot and the division but the Caps could make that less of a certainty by beating them at the Verizon Center on Thursday.

After that, the Panthers visit the Carolina Hurricanes while the Washington Capitals face a Rangers team with little to play for in Madison Square Garden – both on Saturday.

It would be surprising if Florida fails to win the division and even more shocking if they fall out of the East’s top eight if things really fall apart, but they opened themselves up to that possibility by letting a seemingly certain victory slip away.

Capitals, Sabres react to changing fortunes

Montreal Canadiens v Washington Capitals

When the Buffalo Sabres clearly outclassed the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Tuesday, it seemingly provided evidence of two teams going in the wrong direction. The Caps disappointed again while that victory marked the fifth in a row for Buffalo.

That turned out to be true, only it seems that game was a turning point for the Capitals and perhaps the peak of the 2011-12 season for the Sabres.

Things are pretty bad for Buffalo now, something that isn’t lost on the team. Ville Leino told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl that much:

“Tuesday we have to win,” Leino said. “Otherwise, we don’t have a chance.”

With a two-point gap between Washington and Buffalo and three games left for each team, it would seem like Leino is being a bit dramatic. Yet with the Capitals’ tiebreaker advantage, it’s more like a three-point difference.

The Sabres are struggling with two consecutive regulation losses but the Caps seem aware that they haven’t exactly gotten their edge with dominant wins. They beat both the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens 3-2 via shootouts after coughing up leads.

Mike Knuble discussed the results with CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley.

“We’d love to do it with a little more ease but the bottom line is we got the two points and Buffalo didn’t,” Knuble said. “We’ve said all along we’re shooting for at least eight out of 10 points (in their final five games) and we’re heading into the right direction.”

Indeed, if the Capitals get four more points, they’d make the playoffs even if the Sabres win out. Washington has five more regulation/OT wins than Buffalo, so the only way the Sabres are taking the eighth spot is by finishing with more points.

Then again, maybe Buffalo can take advantage of another falling team in the Florida Panthers, so ultimately, it’s all about carving out as many points as possible. As the stretch run shows, fortunes can change pretty quickly.

Leafs shock Sabres; Capitals earn shootout win

Nicklas Backstrom

The Toronto Maple Leafs might actually receive a few nice questions from Lance Brown this weekend – or at least a Christmas card from the Washington Capitals next year.

A game after inspiring sarcastic Blue Jays chants, the Maple Leafs won their first game in Toronto since Feb. 6 – and it was a big blow to the Buffalo Sabres. A late goal made things awfully interesting but the Sabres lost 4-3 in regulation, thus locking them up in ninth place regardless of the Capitals’ actions.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Capitals came through during Nicklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup by winning a 3-2 shootout against the Montreal Canadiens. This gives the Caps a two-point lead for the East’s final spot while both teams have three games left.

Considering the fact that Washington holds the tiebreaker advantage over Buffalo, it really means the Sabres might have to make up a three-point gap for the eighth seed.

Chasing the Cats

With that in mind, the Capitals might even switch their sights from the Sabres and the eighth seed to the Florida Panthers and the Southeast Division title/third spot. Florida’s buffer has been reduced to two points and although it has a game in hand, the Capitals hold the tiebreaker advantage there as well and the two teams meet in Washington on Thursday.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround for a Capitals team that was one of the league leaders in disappointments and negative press this season.

Backstrom’s return

Capitals fans were elated to see Nicklas Backstrom return, so here’s a quick look at what he did tonight:

Backstrom: zero points, two shots on goal, 12-6 in faceoffs and a -1 rating in 19:40 minutes.

Even with overtime in mind, Backstrom skating for almost 20 minutes might be the best sign for Washington. If he can get up to speed, the Capitals could actually be dangerous – whatever playoff spot they gain.

You know, if they make it that far (which is a much smaller “if” after today).