Capitals 3, Panthers 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times - News Ob (Raleigh)
Absolutely unbelievable! The Verizon Center top blew out as the Washington Capitals not only squeaked into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they took the Southeast Division title on the last game of the season. Screw 8th place, the Caps find themselves with home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. And guess who might finish in 6th place, Ottawa.
Tomas Fleischmann started the scoring with a whiff then a deke to beat Anderson midway through the first period. The Panthers didn't lay down though, they came right back with a powerplay tally that had to go to review. Sergei Fedorov slapped a second period cannon past Craig Anderson for the game winner and then got the game's first star honors. Alex Semin added some insurance on the power play and the Caps finish off the Southeast Division as champions and catapulted to 3rd in the Eastern Conference. More importantly it's a playoff berth they were pushing for.
The Capitals find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, and clinch the Division title for just the 4th time in team history. Alex Ovechkin may not have scored, but that didn't dampen the cheers for "M-V-P!"
Ovie finishes the season with 65 goals and 112 points that includes 22 power play goals (leads team), 11 game winning goals (leads team) and a staggering 441 shots on net (leads league). More than enough to snag some hardware for the left winger.
Cris Huet matched a Capital record of nine wins in a row set by Pete Peeters in '87 and finished the season with an impressive 11 wins in 13 starts, a 1.69 GAA and .934 save % since becoming a Capital. Plus he has his own cheer of "Hip, hip, Hu-et!"
Nick Backstrom finishes his opening year as rookie with a team best 55 assists (surpassing Ovechkin's rookie record) and a serious contender for Calder Trophy honors. Donald Brashear was the penalty leader for the Caps and ruined another bid for the Lady Byng award, better luck next year Brash. Brooks Laich finished a career season with 21 goals and 36 points. He also lead the team in short handed tallies with 2. Both Viktor Kozlov and Ovechkin lead the team in +/- with a +28.
This season has been one amazing ride for those of us that were there on the first day of training camp to this moment. The Caps have seen their season in the balance and written off (I include myself in that group that had written off this team early). But a new coach and a new attitude and some new faces and the Caps are right were we all thought they should be, in the playoffs. From worst to 3rd.
It's a comeback of epic proportions. Sure some will say the Southeast Division wasn't the strongest, or that Carolina's injuries just finally caught up with them, or any number of other excuses. But the Capitals' record doesn't lie. 11 wins in their last 12. That is almost legendary.
Now the Caps enter the playoffs with plenty of momentum, and could be facing a team that has very little in Ottawa. This could mark the first time the two Capital cities will play in the post season. While it may seem like an easy task for the Caps since they have owned the Senators in regular season play sweeping them in their 4 encounters, the playoffs are a different beast. It will all depend on a what a Philly win means in their last game of the regular season against Pittsburgh Sunday.
Playoff tickets are already on sale for the Caps first two games at the phone booth.
The Capitals would have clinched a playoff spot regardless if Carolina were beaten by the Panthers or not. However, they would have been a much lower seed and either Philadelphia or Boston would have had to sit out.