Southeast: Capitals close in on playoff berth

By Cory Lavalette

Photo: The Washington Capitals‘ shootout sniper, Matt Hendricks, netted another shootout goal on Saturday in his team’s 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens (courtesy of

Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)

The Washington Capitals reclaimed the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with two wins coupled with two Buffalo losses, giving the Capitals a two-point edge over the Sabres with three games remaining. The Capitals also hold the tiebreaker over Buffalo with 36 regulation and overtime wins, vs. the Sabres’ 31.

Washington can push their lead to four Monday with a win in Tampa Bay, with the idle Sabres waiting for a chance to avenge Saturday’s 4-3 loss in Toronto when they host the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Each team’s final two games are against playoff-bound teams. Buffalo will close their season on the road with games in Philadelphia Thursday and the season finale in Boston Saturday. The Capitals host Southeast-leading Florida Thursday, then travel to New York to face the Rangers Saturday.

Thursday’s game against Florida could also play a part in determining the Southeast champion. Washington is looking to win its fifth straight division title, whereas the Panthers are not only poised for their first playoff berth since 2000, but also their first Southeast crown.

The Week Ahead

Carolina Hurricanes The Hurricanes are now assured a third-straight season without a trip to the playoffs. All that is left to determine is where they will select in this summer’s entry draft. They are currently tied for 23rd in the NHL with Minnesota, but six teams from No. 22 through No. 27 are within two points of each other — and one win or loss could be the difference between selecting fourth or ninth. Carolina heads to Ottawa Tuesday before closing out their home schedule against Montreal Thursday. They will finish the season Saturday in Florida against the Panthers.

Florida Panthers
The Panthers hold a three-point edge on Washington with just three games remaining, but seemingly face an easier finish to the season than the Capitals. The Panthers host Winnipeg Tuesday before meeting the Capitals head-to-head in Washington on Thursday. Florida finishes the regular season at home Saturday, playing the Hurricanes.

Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are the only team in the league with four games remaining on their schedule, but they have already been eliminated from postseason consideration. They will, however, get the chance to play spoiler Monday when they host Washington in Tampa Bay’s home finale. They then hit the road for games at Montreal on Wednesday, Toronto on Thursday, and close out the season Saturday in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg Jets
Despite missing the playoffs, the Jets’ first season back in Winnipeg should be considered a success. The home fans will get one more chance to honor the Jets, but first Winnipeg plays in Florida Tuesday and on Long Island Thursday. Winnipeg will finish the season hosting Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Southeast Division Notes

Winnipeg and Tampa Bay each returned players to the AHL, with the Jets reassigning Ben Maxwell to St. John’s on Saturday and the Lightning sending Trevor Smith to Norfolk on Sunday. … Eric Staal scored his 250th career goal — a shorthanded tally — on Saturday against Winnipeg.