There are three teams battling for two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and it could all come to a head on Thursday night. The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers are set to duel in the District of Columbia, while the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres are in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers.
Eastern Conference Playoff Race
|3.* Florida Panthers||80||37-25-18||92||31|
|8. Washington Capitals||80||40-32-8||88||36|
|9. Buffalo Sabres||80||39-31-10||88||32|
The Panthers can clinch the Southeast Division and lock down the East's No. 3 seed with a single point against the Caps, but should they lose in regulation, things get mighty interesting in the Southeast Division race.
In that scenario, the Capitals would sit just two points back of the Panthers with a game to play, and since Washington has already clinched the first tiebreaker (non-shootout wins) over the 'Cats, the division title would come down to Saturday's action. Washington visits the top-ranked New York Rangers in the season finale and the Panthers visit the lowly Carolina Hurricanes, and it would be the same situation on Saturday. The Panthers would need just a point to clinch, but should the Panthers lose in regulation and the Capitals win, Washington would clinch the division title.
Of course, that all hinges on Thursday's game. It should be a good one, to say the least.
RACE FOR EIGHTH
Where do the Buffalo Sabres fall in all of this? They can only finish eighth, as they're not a Southeast Division club. They'll only face elimination Thursday under the following scenario:
- The Sabres lose in regulation to Philadelphia, keeping their point total at 88 ...
- AND the Capitals beat the Panthers in overtime or a shootout. Florida would clinch the Southeast Division by earning a point (giving them a total of 93) and the Sabres would be unable to pass Washington for the eighth seed (point total of 90), thanks to Washington owning the regulation plus overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker.
On the flip side, the Sabres could pass Washington for the No. 8 spot with a win on Thursday night, provided the Capitals also lose to the Panthers. In a nutshell, the Capitals control their own destiny for the No. 8 spot thanks to owning the tiebreaker, so the Sabres need to hope the Caps cede at least one of their four remaining points.
Forgetting the Capitals, though, Buffalo could also find their way into the postseason if the Panthers drop their final two games. For that to happen, Florida would have to lose twice and the Sabres would have to win twice. They'd then hold the ROW tiebreaker over the Panthers. One point still clinches a playoff spot for Florida, however.
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