JC Salas/Icon SMI)
The Florida Panthers squandered a 3-0 lead Tuesday and lost in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, delaying the team’s first playoff berth in more than a decade and their quest for a first-ever division title.
By earning one point in the standings, the Panthers magic number is down to one with two games remaining. But they travel to Washington — who trails them by four points in the standings — for the season’s penultimate game Thursday before closing out at home Saturday against Carolina.
While the playoffs and division title are so close, a loss Thursday could put the Panthers in danger of missing the postseason. Buffalo, who rallied from a 3-0 first-period deficit Tuesday to top Toronto, is also just four points back and like the Capitals would hold a tiebreaker over the Panthers in case of a tie.
Still, Buffalo and Washington would have to win both their remaining games — the Sabres face a tough path with road games at Philadelphia and Boston, while the Capitals close out in New York City against the Rangers Saturday after their face-to-face match-up with the Panthers Thursday — and the Panthers would need two regulation losses to miss the postseason.
As for the Capitals, they hold a tiebreaker over Buffalo for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, so the Sabres would need to out-point them to secure a postseason berth.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes offered a potential glimpse of the future Tuesday when they paired rookie defenseman Justin Faulk with Tim Gleason in Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Ottawa. Faulk has spent most of the season with Jay Harrison, while Gleason has usually been teamed with Bryan Allen. But with Allen set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season and several young defensemen — Bobby Sanguinetti, Ryan Murphy and Brian Dumoulin top the list — poised to push for roster spots next year, Carolina seems to be trying out a new top defensive pairing.
Tampa Bay Lightning – The Lightning put forward Brandon Segal on waivers. If he clears, he will rejoin the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, who are in the midst of a record 23-game winning streak.
Winnipeg Jets – The Jets helped spoil the Panthers’ planned coronation as Southeast champion with a come-from-behind, 5-4 overtime win Tuesday. It marked the third straight overtime game for Winnipeg, who lost to Tampa Bay Saturday but defeated Carolina the night before. Captain Andrew Ladd scored the OT winner in both victories, tying him with Bryan Little for the team lead in game-winning goals with six. … Ondrej Pavelec won his 29th game Tuesday and is one win shy of becoming the second goalie since the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise was formed to win at least 30 games — Kari Lehtonen registered 34 wins in 2006-07. The previous incarnation of the Jets had a goalie break the 30-win barrier just twice: Brian Hayward (1984-85) and Bob Essensa (1992-93) each had 33-win seasons.
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