NHL roundup: Panthers end playoff drought
WASHINGTON – The Florida Panthers ended one of the longest playoff droughts in major North American sports Thursday night despite a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, who also earned a postseason bid to complete the eight-team field for the Eastern Conference.
Both teams qualified after Buffalo lost 2-1 at Philadelphia, eliminating the Sabres.
Still to be determined is the winner of the Southeast Division. The Panthers are in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, but they also will win their first division title in franchise history if they gain at least a point at home against Carolina or if the Capitals lose to the New York Rangers on Saturday, the final day of the regular season.
In a wacky game that included three goalie changes in a 6-minute stretch in the second period, the Capitals raced to a 3-0 lead with goals from Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich. Of significant concern for Washington is a left leg injury that sent Michal Neuvirth to the locker room, leaving Braden Holtby as the only healthy netminder on the roster.
The Panthers haven’t played a playoff game since 2000. Only six franchises from the four major U.S. sports leagues have gone longer without a postseason appearance: the Buffalo Bills (NFL), Baltimore Orioles (MLB), Toronto Blue Jays (MLB), Kansas City Royals (MLB), Washington Nationals (MLB) and Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB).
Flyers 2, Sabres 1: At Philadelphia, Matt Read and Marc-Andre Bourdon scored to lead Philadelphia past Buffalo, eliminating the Sabres from postseason contention.
Read beat goalie Ryan Miller on a breakaway with 4:21 left in the game to end Buffalo’s bid.
Penguins 5, Rangers 2: At Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves to tie the Pittsburgh franchise record for victories, and the Penguins beat New York to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang each had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference for the fourth consecutive season. They will play Philadelphia in the first round.
Predators 2, Stars 0: At Nashville, Tenn., Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, Francis Bouillon scored at 4:28 of the third period, and Nashville beat Dallas to grab back control of its playoff slot with its third win in four games.
With the win and Detroit losing to New Jersey, Nashville moved back into fourth in the Western Conference, a point a head of the Red Wings. Now the Predators need only wrap up the regular season Saturday night at Colorado with a win to start the playoffs at home and finish ahead of Detroit for the first time.
Blue Jackets 5, Avalanche 2: At Denver, Cam Atkinson scored three goals, and Steve Mason stopped 35 shots, helping Columbus put an end to Colorado’s postseason aspirations – and putting San Jose in the playoffs.
Rick Nash added two goals for Columbus. The Blue Jackets have won four of five, but are still guaranteed to finish with the worst record in the NHL.
Devils 2, Red Wings 1: At Detroit, Petr Sykora broke a tie with 8:40 left, Alexei Ponikarovsky also had a goal and Martin Brodeur made 23 saves in New Jersey’s win over Detroit.
Bruins 3, Senators 1: At Ottawa, Anton Khudobin stopped 44 shots in his Boston debut, leading the Bruins past Ottawa. These teams will likely end up as first-round playoff opponents.
Flames 3, Canucks 2: At Calgary, Alberta, Michael Cammalleri scored twice in the third period in Calgary’s comeback victory over Vancouver.
Maple Leafs 3, Lightning 2 (OT): At Toronto, Steven Stamkos scored his 59th goal of the season for Tampa Bay, but Dion Phaneuf scored in overtime for Toronto in the Maple Leafs’ comeback victory over the Lightning.
Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 1 (SO): At Raleigh, N.C., Eric Staal scored in the shootout to lead Carolina past Montreal.
Islanders 5, Jets 4: At Uniondale, N.Y.. Michael Grabner scored his second go-ahead goal of the third period with just 46.8 seconds left, John Tavares helped set up two others to reach 50 assists this season, and the New York Islanders wrapped up their home schedule with a victory over Winnipeg.