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

Apr 5, 2012, 9:50 PM EDT

laichcarlsongetty Getty Images

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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  1. trbowman - Apr 5, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    Tough..

    Still happy the team fought back, would have never believed they’d be in the thick of it two months ago. Reload for the next year.

    Panthers, congrats. We Buffalo fans know what it’s like to go without the playoffs for an extended period of time.

    That said, you’re getting swept round one.

  2. subliminalnoize - Apr 5, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    Saturday……………………………………

  3. bcjim - Apr 5, 2012 at 10:29 PM

    I had written Buffalo off months ago, pretty good run but as a DC local, I am happy with how things ended.

  4. psujay - Apr 5, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    And the rest of league rejoices at not having to hear Miller or watch Kaleta…

  5. carpediaz - Apr 5, 2012 at 10:49 PM

    Go Panthers!! I can’t be a happier fan right now.

  6. phillyphever - Apr 5, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    And with Florida back in the playoffs, Toronto becomes the team with the longest playoff drought in the NHL. How embarrassing is it that Atlanta (before they moved), Columbus, Edmonton, Florida and the Islanders have made the playoffs post-lockout and Toronto hasn’t?

    • danphipps01 - Apr 6, 2012 at 3:26 AM

      In fairness, Edmonton was a good team in the early-to-mid 2000s. A top-tier contender, no, but good? Definitely. Edmonton’s comical ineptitude of late has been just that – of late.

      Sure as hell become business as usual in Toronto, though, you’re right about that.

      • dougsautersmustache - Apr 6, 2012 at 11:01 AM

        Well, I mean, the Oilers made the Cup finals in 2006, which is a pretty good indication of a “top-tier contender”, at least temporarily.

        But yeah, an Original Six team falling to such pitiful depths is sad to watch, not as a Leafs fan, but as a fan of the sport in general. It’d be like Green Bay having a firesale, refusing to draft, and languoring at the bottom of the NFC North for a decade.

  7. crosberries - Apr 6, 2012 at 12:31 AM

    Nothing Laich Messier

  8. billsin20xx - Apr 6, 2012 at 8:24 AM

    So now can we fire Ruff and get a coach who actually gets a team to play good all year and not just the last two months of the season as Ruff’s teams typically do?

  9. pastabelly - Apr 6, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Ottawa matches up better against the Rangers and they struggle against Boston (even missing Chara, Bergeron, Boychuck, and Thomas). It wouldn’t be a shock if they made no effort at securing the #7 spot.

    Nobody had the Panthers making the playoffs in preseason picks. The Sabres were picked by many to beat out the Bruins to win the division. The Sabres and Montreal were easily the biggest disappointments this year. Ruff should go.

  10. billsin20xx - Apr 6, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Just read a good one in Buff News, Sulzer left the team minutes before the game with a personal emergency at home in Nashville. I do hope nothing bad happened to anyone, but I do hope this was a true major emergency when a d-man leaves like that minutes before arguably the biggest game of the year for them on a team already missing it’s top two d-men

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