The playoff scenarios are still wildly in flux, but one thing now is for certain. The Washington Capitals will hold one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference, courtesy of their fourth straight Southeast Division title, after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in a shootout before a capacity crowd at Air Canada Centre.
Mike Knuble, the fourth shooter for the Caps, scored the only goal of the penalty shot phase to deliver the win.
The loss officially drops the Leafs out of the playoff race for the franchise-record sixth consecutive season.
The win, coupled with the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 loss to Ottawa, gives the Capitals a two-point cushion with two games remaining in the Eastern Conference.
As for the game, there really wasn't a whole lot to talk about, unless you want to discuss Toronto's rookie goalie James Reimer. The Caps put 41 shots on goal, including seven by Alex Ovechkin, but could only manage to get two past Reimer, Ovechkin's laser beam on a five-on-three, and John Erskine's floater from the point that deflected off Luke Schenn and into the net.
Ovechkin's goal was the 300th of his already illustrious career, and he could have had several move were it not for the stellar play of Reimer. Ovechkin had a shot flick off a post in the third period after Remier got just enough of it with his glove to deflected it out of the way.
Reimer's play the last month of the season has been a bright spot in another lost season in Toronto, but not bright enough to lift them into a playoff seed.
The Capitals, however, shook off their doldrums of December and January and now sit in the driver's seat in the conference and for the moment own the second best record in the league. It's quite a difference from the losing streak when talk radio hosts and certain segments of the fan base were calling for coach Bruce Boudreau's head on a platter.
Now, as the second season approaches, it seems like their leader is healthy and, well, leading the way. Boudreau is resting forwards a game at a time as we go. And hopefully some old favorites can get some PT against Florida this weekend and bolster a depleted blue line.
Hang on to your hats. This is where it really gets fun.
SEMIN STAYS HOME
Alexander Semin was not a factor in last night's game as he stayed behind in D.C. nursing an undisclosed ailment. Boudreau said during the morning skate that if the game had been a playoff game Semin wouled have been in the lineup.
The enigmatic winger had goals in three of his last four games after being held scoreless in seven straight.
ON THE MEND?
GM George McPhee told reporters in Toronto that D Mike Green, who has missed the 24 of the last 26 games with concussion-like symptoms, could return to the ice for Wednesday's game with Florida. McPhee indicated that Green has passed all the tests mandated by the league for his return, but the team is weighing their options when to insert him back into the lineup.
CAPS NEWS NETWORKS THREE STARS
3. Sean Collins. I'm going to give Collins some props here. He was plus-1 and was not the worst defenseman on the ice. Played a well-managed 10:49.
2. Michal Neuvirth. The kid just keeps doing his job. Two goals on 21 shots, and the second goal was the result of his defenseman -- in this case Jeff Schultz -- flat getting beat.
1. Alex Ovechkin. His goal was a thing of pure power, and he had great legs and hands in this one. His stick-handling displays on a couple rushes were breathtaking.