Tag: Eastern Conference playoff bubble

Tomas Fleischmann, Dalton Prout

Panthers might not win the Southeast after all


When the likely sixth-seed New Jersey Devils face off against the eventual Southeast Division winner, they’re probably not going to be too intimidated. Still, the Florida Panthers at least carried the most inspiring story into the possible division crown and the third seed that comes with it, but that triumph suddenly is in some doubt.

The Blue Jackets gave the Panthers a sound 4-1 beating in Columbus tonight, holding Florida to 90 standings points – just four more than the ninth-place Washington Capitals with both teams having four games left on their schedules. (And come to think of it, the Caps actually hold the tiebreaker advantage at the moment, so one could call it the equivalent to a “three” point lead.)

Flopping down the stretch

On paper, the Panthers should have been socking away points lately, but they’re instead 1-2-3 in their last six games, needing a shootout win against the lowly Montreal Canadiens for their only victory. In that time, they’ve lost shootouts to the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, regulation losses to the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes and an OT defeat to the Minnesota Wild.

In other words, if Florida manages a seemingly unthinkable drop from the playoffs, they’ll blame other teams that are golfing early.

Setting up for a showdown against Washington

The schedule gets more interesting after tonight, so if motivation is an issue, half of Florida’s schedule will give them extra inspiration. It starts with an away game against the Detroit Red Wings, then a presumably “easy” home game against the Winnipeg Jets.

It gets really interesting on Thursday, April 5, however. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals in what could be the Southeast Division’s version of the New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – a game that could have serious division title implications (especially if it ends in regulation). After that, the Panthers will face the Hurricanes at home – which very well might be a fight for their Southeast title – and maybe even playoff – lives.

Ovechkin, Capitals steal a strange one in shootout

Alex Ovechkin

If hockey was a sport based on merit alone – and thus devoid of bounces and luck – you’d have to think that the Boston Bruins would have creamed the Washington Capitals tonight. In a way, though, the teams’ strange game matched the flow of an old school professional wrestling match with Washington eventually gaining the 3-2 shootout win.

Caps hook the tights

Consider the Capitals in the role of the “heel” or villain – and not just because of a questionable hit by Jason Chimera on Adam McQuaid. They essentially snoozed through the first 40 minutes, managing just nine shots in that time yet keeping the score 0-0. Then one could say that Alex Ovechkin did his best Ric Flair impression, “hooking the tights” with two opportunistic assists to give him 14 points (10 goals, four helpers) in his last 12 games.

(Hey, you can say what you will about Ovechkin’s overall disappointments and the team’s tough season, but what about his work during the stretch run? It’s getting harder to say he isn’t “clutch” considering that he’s seemingly only being productive in clutch times in 2011-12.)

Naturally fitting in with the theme of the Capitals’ up-and-down season, the Bruins scored two quick goals to make it 2-2. Consider that turnaround the hockey equivalent to Hulk Hogan “hulking up” at what seemed like the brink of defeat.

Eventually Brooks Laich was the one who scored the “pin” by beating Tim Thomas with a beautiful backhand shootout move, but it was a wild one before that.

East bubble update

Regardless, the Capitals generated those crucial two points, although they technically remain in ninth place:

7. Ottawa: 88 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with five games left
8. Buffalo: 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left

9. Washington: 86 points, 36 regulation/OT wins with four games left

The Capitals currently hold the tiebreaker advantage over Buffalo, which means the Sabres will likely need to finish with at least one more point to take the final spot (assuming that the Senators don’t stumble out themselves). It’s not an impossible request, but as we’ve discussed before, Washington is going to need some help to get in the playoffs. Especially since it appears that Tomas Vokoun aggravated his groin injury on just his first game back Thursday.

Luck was certainly on their side for most of Thursday night, though.

Capitals fall short in a huge game – again


Sure, it’s perfectly reasonable to focus on the Buffalo Sabres’ big 5-1 win, but let’s face it. The Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season is a story of seemingly perpetual disappointment and this latest whooping just spotlights that.

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The excuses are in short supply, too.

Dale Hunter opted to start Braden Holtby, a goalie whose small sample success almost comically camouflages the fact that he probably shouldn’t have been in this position.

Holtby eventually seceded the net after allowing three early goals, but even in a precarious spot at 3-1, the Capitals had half of a game to take advantage of a Sabres defense that was suddenly short two of its best guys when Andrej Sekera and Christian Ehrhoff were sidelined. Instead, Washington allowed a backbreaking Jason Pominville shorthanded goal in the second period and a Drew Stafford 5-1 tally halfway through the final frame.

The Capitals cannot even pin the tail of blame on their road woes, either, as they watched the Sabres take a two-point lead for the East’s eighth seed at the Verizon Center.

About the only signs of life were that Alexander Semin scored their only goal and they at least fired a desperate amount of shots, hammering 35 on goal in the final 40 minutes alone.

Still some hope

Sure, they wouldn’t scare anyone, but it wouldn’t be impossible for the Capitals to back into the playoffs even after this disgraceful defeat. Here are the remaining schedules for Washington and Buffalo:

Caps sked

Thursday: at Boston
Saturday: vs. Montreal
April 2: at Tampa Bay
April 5: vs. Florida
April 7: at Rangers

Sabres schedule

Friday: vs. Pittsburgh
Saturday: at Toronto
April 3: vs. Toronto
April 5: at Philadelphia
April 7: at Boston


Washington trails Buffalo by two standings points after this loss, which is no-doubt enormous. The good news for the Capitals is that they hold the regulation/OT win tiebreaker advantage (36 to 31), so the Sabres need to finish with at least an extra point.

On paper, the Capitals’ schedule actually seems a bit easier, although Buffalo will likely lap up at least three points in that home-and-home series against the free-falling Toronto Maple Leafs.


All of that hopeful discussion aside, this is an enormous win for Buffalo and a brutal loss for the Capitals. Washington can only look in the mirror to explain its problems and it’s hard to say that the team has it in them to shake off this loss.

Even if they do, the Capitals also have to hope that the Sabres stumble along the way after losing “control of their destiny” tonight.