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Eastern playoff race: Caps take over top spot, Leafs look forward to next year

Apr 6, 2011, 8:00 AM EDT

Carolina Hurricanes v Buffalo Sabres Getty Images

Eastern Conference playoff race

x-1. Washington – 105 pts
x-2. Philadelphia – 103 pts
x-3. Boston – 99 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts
x-6. Montreal – 93 pts
7. Buffalo – 92 pts
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts
9. Carolina – 87 pts

x – clinched playoff spot

Buffalo 4, Tampa Bay 2

At a time when the Buffalo Sabres need every point they can get to maintain their place in the standings, Thomas Vanek made sure they’d get the two points against Tampa Bay. Vanek scored his first hat trick this season and the 7th place Sabres lowered their “magic number” to 2 over the Carolina Hurricanes. The win also helped Buffalo keep pace with the 6th seeded Montreal Canadiens who are only a single point ahead of them in the standings.

For the Lightning, the loss snapped their 5-game winning streak. Worse than the loss on the scoreboard was when stud defenseman Viktor Hedman went down with a lower-body injury in the 2nd period. Head coach Guy Boucher hinted that it might have just been for precautionary reasons, but added, “We’ll have to see, we’ll have to wait.” Any extending period absence that potentially extends into the playoffs would be a huge loss for the Lightning. Hopefully for the Lightning and their fans, it’s a minor injury and the team is exercising caution.

Washington 3, Toronto 2 (SO)

Both the Capitals and Leafs made news in the Eastern Conference playoff race—although for much different reasons. The Capitals were finally able to catch and pass the Philadelphia Flyers behind the power of Mike Knuble’s lone goal in the skills competition. The Caps only have two games remaining, yet hold a two-point advantage over the Flyers and have clinched the Southeast Division. Not too bad for a team that was having a disappointing time this season.

For the Leafs, they were battling to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation, their fate was sealed even before the shootout was completed because the Sabres were able to beat the Lightning at home. The shootout loss hurt, but their season had already been decided. Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf captured the sentiment of the locker room (and probably a fair amount of fans as well):

“It’s probably the worst feeling in hockey, other than losing in the playoffs. Right now, [the run] still doesn’t make it any better. As players, we play to play in the playoffs.”

 

Ottawa 5, Philadelphia 2

Coming into the game against the lowly Ottawa Senators, the Flyers had the chance to clinch the Atlantic Division, a guaranteed top 3 seed that comes with the division crown. Instead, not only did they get pumped by the Sens and not only did they lose the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, but they are now only a single point ahead of the Penguins to win the division (both have two games left). The Flyers have been the class of the East all season—but they’re playing their worst hockey of the season at the worst possible time. The loss to the Sens was the fourth straight defeat for the Flyers. Needless to say, Philadelphia isn’t exactly streaking towards the playoffs.

On top of the poor play, newcomer Ben Holmstrom did his best Matt Cooke impression in his first game in the league. Yeah, Chris Pronger can’t come back soon enough.

Pittsburgh 4, New Jersey 2

No Sidney Crosby, no Evgeni Malkin, no problem. People keep waiting for the Penguins to start slipping without their two superstars but they just keep winning. Now, instead of slipping down the standings, they’re seriously threatening the Flyers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Their magic number for clinching home ice advantage in the first round dropped to 2 with their win against the Devils and the Lightning’s loss in Buffalo.

Next up, a simple game in Long Island. Surely there won’t be any storylines to follow in that game, right?

Montreal 2, Chicago 1 (OT)

Some people may have said it was only a matter of time, but when a team clinches a playoff spot, a burden is invariably lifted. With their thrilling OT victory over the defending champs, the Habs officially sent in their RSVP for the 2010-11 playoffs. Carey Price was an absolute wall as he stopped 42 of 43 shots directed at him by the Hawks. Michael Cammalleri looked like he was ready for the playoffs to start today and PK Subban proved that he has a flair for the dramatic (Blackhawks fans may have a different take on his drama lessons). But if you truly like drama, keep this in mind: if the playoffs started today the Canadiens would face the Bruins in the first round.

  1. polegojim - Apr 6, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Having a tough time mustering any excitement for the Caps. I want to, but just can’t do it.

    All those ‘division’ and ‘conference’ titles, but…. how many of those Stanley Cups has this Ovechkin team won??? Oh yes, I remember… 0.

    All flash, No bang.

    With soooo much talent, speed, and size, this team over the past 5 seasons will go down as one of the greatest ‘under-achievers’ in NHL History.

    Will Arnot bring what they need to actually win the Cup? I think…not.

    • bcjim - Apr 6, 2011 at 10:32 AM

      1. *This* will only be the 3rd year where they are actual contenders for anything. 07/08 they barely made it in after the Boudreau hire and subsequent meteoric rise to make the playoffs on the last day as I recall. Before that they were abysmal. So Im not sure where the “5 seasons” you mention come from.

      2.Most of the last “5 seasons” they have been playing with a garbage barge of defensemen and a scheme that totally exposed said defensemen. This year is different, we’ll see what happens.

      3. Hockey is not like Basketball where the 4-8 seeds really have no chance. Look at the standings, its splitting hairs to say team x is better than team y. Everyone (almost) that makes the postseason has a chance. There is no easy first round patsy to beat up on in hockey.

    • lphockey - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      “how many of those Stanley Cups has this Ovechkin team won??? Oh yes, I remember… 0.”

      This is an absurd argument. As bcjim points out, the NHL playoffs are a different beast than most sports and highly unpredictable. Besides, if a team is underacheiving based solely on Cup wins, then I guess Vancouver must not be a true contender this year – how many Cups have those Sedin boys won?

  2. capsrockva - Apr 6, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    Since Vancover won the presidents cup that means they’ll probably get dumped in the first round. that GD trophy is a curse. take a look at recent history. Only the redwings have won both. as far as pit is concerned w/o crybaby and malkin/cooke I don’t think they’ll go far.Pit’s GM is taking it slow w/ crybaby. I don’t think he should come back this year, cause everyone would target him

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