The Washington Capitals once again have control of their playoff destiny, by virtue of their 3-2 shootout victory Saturday night over the Montreal Canadians, coupled with the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 regulation loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Caps are two points clear of Buffalo for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with three games remaining for both teams.
Washington also finds themselves three points behind the Florida Panthers for first place in the Southeast, with a matchup looming between the two teams Thursday night. The Panthers picked up a point Sunday in a… wait for it… 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit. It’s the 17th loser point for Florida this season.
Available playoff spots in the East are down to just two, as the Ottawa Senators punched their playoff ticket on Sunday, defeating the New York Islanders 5-1 on the road. Ottawa has won four in a row to clinch a playoff spot after finishing 13th in the conference last season.
The odds now favor the Caps to make the playoffs, but there is work left to do on the ice. This team seems to do its best work when the odds are stacked against them this season, but right now all they have to do is take care of their own business against Tampa Bay on the road Monday (11th in the East, 5-5-0 in their last 10 games), Florida on Thursday and the season finale next Saturday against the top-of-the-conference New York Rangers. That game could — could — be a preview of a first round match-up. Or it could mean heartbreak.
Buffalo (Toronto at home, away to Philly and Boston) seems to have the tougher road down the stretch. They also seem like they might be running out of gas, losers of their last two games after playing brilliantly for about a month to get back into the playoff race.
As for the Caps chances at securing a fifth straight Southeast Division banner, Florida hosts Winnipeg and Carolina, sandwiching the big matchup against the Caps on Thursday. If the Caps want to win the division, they need to win out and get some help from a division foe against the Panthers.
The Caps welcomed back center Nicklas Backstrom Saturday night. The first-line pivot wasn’t eased gradually back in either — he played over 19 minutes in the victory. But as been the case all season for the Caps, with good news comes some bad, as CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley reported Sunday that goalie Tomas Vokoun could possibly have played his last game for the Caps. The veteran goalie injured his groin in Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over Boston and according to Gormley’s report, the injury is more serious than the previous one that caused Vokoun to miss six games.
Vokoun, 35, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.