Caps still gunning for Southeast Division crown

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While the Washington Captials’ primary focus is simply making the playoffs — they can clinch with a win tonight in Tampa and a Buffalo loss Tuesday night against Toronto — the team can’t help but wonder if something larger is within reach.

According to CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormely, it definitely is.

The Florida Panthers have lost six of their last seven, opening the door for a once-improbable notion — Washington winning its fifth straight Southeast Division banner.

The Capitals would need any combination of six points gained by the Caps or lost by the Panthers. That means the Caps can clinch the division title by winning their final three games against Tampa, Florida and the Rangers no matter what Florida does because they hold the first tiebreaker on the Panthers with more non-shootout victories.

However, if the Capitals lose in regulation tonight and the Panthers win at home against Winnipeg on Tuesday, the Panthers would go five points up on the Caps and clinch the Southeast, regardless of Thursday night’s outcome between the two teams.

Here’s another look at the remaining schedules for the Caps, Sabres and Panthers:

Capitals (88 points)         Sabres (86 points)    Panthers (91 points)
at Tampa Bay                            Toronto                             Winnipeg
Florida                                        at Philadelphia                at Capitals
at NY Rangers                          at Boston                           Carolina     

(NOTE: We realize Gormely’s math is a little off. Even if the Caps beat Florida, the Panthers can still finish with 95 points with wins over the Jets and ‘Canes. The Caps, meanwhile, can only hit a maximum of 94.)

As it stands, Washington can finish in three positions — third, seventh or eighth — and based on regular-season results, it might actually serve the Caps best to finish as the N0. 7 seed and play Boston in the first round.

The Capitals 3-1 against the Bruins this season, compared to 1-2 against the Rangers (who would be their first-round opponent if they finish eighth) and 1-1-2 against the Devils (who would be their first-round opponent if they finish third.)