Tag: Southeast Division race

Florida Panthers v Washington Capitals

Florida Panthers win first Southeast Division title


It took seven coaches, seven general managers and 12 years, but the Florida Panthers are playoff-bound. Making the postseason probably feels like a first, yet the real first came on Saturday as Kevin Dineen and Dale Tallon’s squad won their first ever Southeast Division title after handling the Carolina Hurricanes a 4-1 defeat.

Ever since winning five games in a row from March 11-21, things have been awfully shabby for the Cats. Tonight’s victory marks just their second since that point, as they went 2-3-5 in the final 10 games of the season. If you want an even clearer picture of their punch-less finish, chew on this: today marks their first regulation win since they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 on March 20.

The Panthers lacked much bite lately, so many will probably predict the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils to “upset” them in the first round. Most (if not all) of the numbers seem to speak in the Devils’ favor.

Right now, the Panthers could probably care less. The franchise has taken a huge step in the right direction and you never know how far they can go if things bounce the right way in the playoffs.

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


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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Panthers cough up chance to clinch Southeast, playoffs

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

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.

Sabres’ weird win might be a metaphor for their season

Buffalo Sabres

If you’re the type of person who analogizes things constantly like me, the Buffalo Sabres’ comeback-filled 6-5 OT win against the Toronto Maple Leafs wasn’t shocking. Instead, it was really a microcosm of both teams’ seasons.

Toronto opened the game with a stunning 3-0 lead, much like they raced off out of the gates with a high-powered offense. Even Phil Kessel stuck to the script, supplying assists on all of those tallies.

Sabres fight back

Much like during this season’s rougher moments, the Buffalo Sabres could have thrown in the towel with that big deficit in mind – not to mention an endless deluge of Internet snark building – but they refused to do so. That being said, they sure didn’t make it look easy … unless you think they really have a flair for the dramatic.

Buffalo dominated the second period 2-0 with a 19-6 shot advantage. Things could have fallen apart two more times in the third period, too. Clarke MacArthur made it 4-2 just a minute and a half in but Derek Roy collected a power-play tally to give Buffalo hope. Jake Gardiner then seemingly put things out of reach by skating around the Buffalo defense and made it 5-3, but it shockingly wasn’t over.

One more comeback

Alexander Suzler scored his second goal of the game to make it 5-4 about 15 minutes into that manic final frame, yet the tying goal might have been the most symbolic moment.

As PHT’s Joe Yerdon points out, the scramble in front of Toronto’s net that resulted in the 5-5 Jordan Leopold tally in many ways tells the story of the Leafs’ lost season. In a way, it tells Buffalo’s story too – they keep coming back and finding ways to win, even if it’s nowhere near as pretty as anyone expected.

It’s pretty hard to deny the beauty of a wild Buffalo crowd after Roy scored the overtime power play game-winner, though. That’s a moment that was a beauty for any hockey fans without a horse in this increasingly crazy race.

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Standings update

For now, let’s ignore the Florida Panthers’ place in the eighth place mess, even after they coughed up an embarrassing 5-4 OT loss to the Winnipeg Jets tonight. Here’s what the race between Washington and Buffalo looks like after the Sabres’ surge:

8. Washington: 88 points, 36 regulation/OT wins and two games left – vs. Florida (Thursday) and at Rangers (Saturday)
9. Buffalo: 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins and two games left – at Philadelphia (Thursday), at Boston (Saturday)

As you can see, the Capitals hold the tiebreaker advantage so the Sabres need to finish with one more point to take the eighth seed. The nice thing about Thursday’s Panthers-Capitals game is that Florida has incentive to at least fight for a win since the Southeast title hasn’t been clinched yet. On the other hand, the Rangers have even less on the line than the Flyers and Bruins, so Buffalo’s best chance to “control its destiny” is if Washington finishes with a point or less on Thursday.

It all sets up for a stretch run that should be as dramatic and ridiculous as every day-to-day development so far.

That being said, it might be hard to top tonight’s theatrics.

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).