Winners & Losers: Capitals lose big; Panthers take control of Southeast
It was the biggest game of the night and the Buffalo Sabres came out on the winning end with a convincing 5-1 victory in Washington.
There's always a Winner and a Loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.
Buffalo Sabres: In what was the biggest game of the night the Sabres continued their hot play with an impressive 5-1 win in Washington, jumping ahead of the Capitals for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo received goals from Cody McCormick, Drew Stafford, Thomas Vaken and Jason Pominville while Ryan Miller stopped 44 of the 45 shots he faced.
For the Sabres, it's their fifth win in a row and 14th in the past 19 games, a stretch that's seen them put together a 14-2-3 record to rise out of what was a pretty deep -- and at the time, seemingly insurmountable -- hole due to a disappointing first half of the season.
It was an important win for the Sabres not only because it put them ahead of Washington in the standings for the time being, but also because the Capitals still own the tiebreaker due to having more regulation and shootout wins. The head-to-head win is big, especially since it came in regulation.
With five games to play it's really looking like Buffalo is going to pull this off.
[Related: Sabres 5, Capitals 1 -- Sabres make statement with win]
Florida Panthers: It's not official yet, but we're getting close to watching the Florida Panthers win their first division title in franchise history and end what has been the longest playoff drought in the NHL.
Thanks to their shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, combined with the Capitals getting crushed in Washington, the Panthers now own a five-point lead in the Southeast Division race and still have a game in hand on the Caps.
There is still a mathematical chance, but with the Capitals only having five games remaining in the regular season, combined with the way they're playing right now, this race just might be over at this point.
[Related: Panthers 3, Canadiens 2]
Washington Capitals: It's just so hard to get a read on this team sometimes.
Just when it looks like they're putting things together and getting ready to make a move, a game like this comes up and they completely lay an egg.
The division title looks like a pipe dream at this point, and now missing the playoffs entirely is a very real possibility.
[Related: Playoff Picture]
Pittsburgh Penguins: Take Kris Letang out of the Penguins lineup and the defense seems to become a mess. No exception on Tuesday night when the Penguins lost to the Islanders, 5-2.
Playing without Letang, Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy the Penguins had to get significant playing time from rookies Simon Despre and Brian Strait on the blue line, and it didn't exactly go well. There were some breakdowns in coverage, stretches where had trouble getting out of their own zone and even an off night from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Not one of their best performances over the past two months.
They didn't get any help around the league, either, as the Rangers defeated the Minnesota Wild, giving New York a three-point lead in the race for the Atlantic Division title and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
[Related: Islanders 5, Penguins 3]
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