Tag: Eastern Conference playoff bubble


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.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

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.

Christian Ehrhoff leaves game with lower-body issue

Christian Ehrhoff

The Buffalo Sabres might be on their way to a big win against the Washington Capitals (currently 3-1 midway through the second period), but they might suffer a big loss too. Hard-shooting free agent acquisition Christian Ehrhoff suffered a lower-body injury and Mike Harrington reports that he won’t return tonight.

The Sabres defense could be in even bigger trouble than that, too, as Harrington reports that Andrej Sekera just recently needed to leave for the locker room.

If Sekera also misses the rest of Tuesday’s game, that means the Sabres will only have four blueliners on hand to hold off a desperate Capitals team with that 3-1 lead and a daunting 30 minutes remaining.

To make matters worse, it appears that troublemaker-forward Patrick Kaleta aggravated a right thumb injury by blocking a shot. The Sabres are positively dropping like flies on Tuesday.

The winner of tonight’s game will have at least a temporary hold lead on the eighth spot in the East, which is looking more and more like a two-horse race between the two teams. Losing Ehrhoff and/or Sekera for an extended period of time certainly won’t make that race easier for Buffalo.

Senators send Jets’ playoff hopes to bed

Ottawa Senators v Winnipeg Jets

Technically speaking, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the 2012 playoffs. Still, it’s tough not to feel that they’re essentially toast after the Ottawa Senators outlasted them 6-4 tonight.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

If nothing else, the Jets shouldn’t really feel “ashamed” – both from the perspective of this season and the individual contest. Just about every writer implied that the Jets could be atrocious and Winnipeg fans would be so delirious to have a team that it would all be gravy, so putting up a real fight to just fall short of the postseason isn’t half-bad. If we look back at this loss as the final nail in the coffin, it fits into the theme of overachieving, too.

Plenty of fight

The Senators took a 2-0 lead thanks to a late first period goal by Chris Neil and an early second period tally by wonderfully named Kaspars Daugavins, but the Jets didn’t just roll over. They tied it up about five minutes later and the theme carried on from there. Kyle Turris gave Ottawa a 3-2 lead at the 17:26 mark of the second period but Antti Miettinen scored his second goal of the night 20 seconds later to make it 3-3.

Daniel Alfredsson ended up being the killer, however. he scored about three minutes into the third period and while Evander Kane showed that the Jets still wouldn’t give up by making it 4-4 17:03 into the final frame, Alfredsson then scored the game-winner less than 30 seconds later. Milan Michalek scored an empty-netter to seal the deal, but ultimately the theme seemed to be “too little, too late” for the Jets.

(Heck, that might be an appropriate title for the team DVD, if those were allowed to be negative.)

Again, though, it’s tough to pile on the Jets unless you’re a jilted Atlanta Thrashers fan.

Even if you attribute it to Ottawa’s many leads, it’s impressive that Winnipeg out-shot Ottawa in all three periods and 48-35 overall. Shots aren’t everything, but they’re often a good way to illustrate team effort, which seemed to be there even if the talent wasn’t for the Jets.

Perhaps the most sobering factor is that this loss happened in Winnipeg, where the so-so team morphs into a serious threat.

End of the road

Sports Club Stats downgrades the Jets’ playoff chances from an already-paltry 4.1 percent to just .6 at this point, so tonight may indeed have been an informal curtain call. Still, if you’re a Winnipeg fan, you should probably feel reasonably satiated about the present and absolutely excited about the future.

Even if the short-term future probably won’t involve a trip to the playoffs.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Capitals cough up three-goal lead, lose to Jets in OT

Winnipeg Jets v Washington Capitals

If you ask me, it’s often unfair to say that a hockey team “choked.” Making such an accusation assumes that hockey is a sport where a lot isn’t left to chance; I think most of us can agree that largely isn’t the case. Still, it’s pretty tough to fight off the long-held criticisms of the Washington Capitals after a loss like this.

The team seemed like it would produce a slam-dunk win in a huge home game against the Winnipeg Jets as they took a 3-0 as Alex Ovechkin continued his hot streak with two of those goals. The Jets and Capitals stuck to the script after that, though, as Winnipeg was that “scrappy bunch” while Washington seemed like a bunch of chokers, coughing up a 3-0 lead to eventually lose 4-3 in overtime.

How do you explain a loss like this? Who gets the blame? Did Brooks Laich make a mistake by fighting Jim Slater in the second period?

All kinds of questions sprout up from a loss like this, but Washington must move on. If nothing else, they’ll get a charity point to keep them in the mix.

East update:

(With Ottawa Senators’ disturbing loss to the Montreal Canadiens, it seems relevant to include them in the mix now.)

7. Ottawa: 84 points, 32 regulation/OT wins and eight games left
8. Washington: 82 points, 35 regulation/OT wins and seven games left

9. Buffalo: 82 points, 29 regulation/OT wins and seven games left
10. Winnipeg: 78 points, 31 regulation/OT wins and eight games left

(Carolina and Toronto aren’t that far behind, but study the expanded standings to determine how much of a chance you believe they have.)

The Capitals did get their charity point, but this is obviously a huge confidence-builder for the Jets – especially since it came on the road. The Sabres are also obviously bigger winners with Washington’s loss; while Buffalo’s time in the eighth spot proved short-lived, they must be taken seriously as a threat for one of the final two playoff spots.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Sports Club Stats still gives Washington the edge for the eighth spot, but Buffalo definitely made a big jump on Friday.

Sabres come up big against Rangers, win 4-1

Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins

By the time this post publishes, this probably won’t be true any longer, but the Buffalo Sabres climbed into the East’s top eight for a precious few minutes. They did so by beating the conference’s No. 1 seed, winning a statement game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden 4-1.

The Washington Capitals are moments away from bumping them out of the top eight even if they lose – it appears their big game against the Winnipeg Jets is about to go to overtime – yet the bottom line is that the Sabres are staying in the picture. (Update: the Capitals did indeed lose to the Jets, but in overtime. Check out this post for an updated look at the bubble race.)

This marks a four-game winning streak for Ryan Miller & Co, a scary sight for the East’s top teams. The odds still seem to be against them, but let’s be honest; if you were the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins, would you want to face the Sabres instead of – say – the uneven Capitals or Jets?

Buffalo still has a way to go before they have a chance to make a top seed awfully nervous in the first round, but wins like these improve its odds substantially.