Caps take down Leafs in shootout
After earning their fourth straight Southeast Division title, the Washington Capitals have their sights set on finishing first in the Eastern Conference.
Mike Knuble scored in the fourth round of the shootout to lift Washington to a 3-2 victory over Toronto on Tuesday night after the Maple Leafs were eliminated from playoff contention.
''We want to be in first everywhere, so it's nice,'' Capitals star Alex Ovechkin said of sewing up the Southeast.
Ovechkin and John Erskine scored in regulation for the Capitals, with Ovechkin getting his 300th career goal in his sixth NHL season.
''It feels good,'' Ovechkin said. ''When you score 300 goals in six years, it's a big accomplishment. I play for a great team.''
Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul scored for the Maple Leafs, whose postseason push ended when Buffalo beat Tampa Bay 4-2. Toronto will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record sixth straight season.
''Going into overtime I think we all saw the score, that Buffalo had won, and we could have packed it in right there,'' said Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer, who finished with 39 saves, including six on shots by Ovechkin. ''As far as I could see, we controlled most of the overtime.''
Toronto was a long shot to even find itself in a playoff race after sitting 12 points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. However, the Maple Leafs got 42 points in a 31-game stretch (18-7-6) to stay alive until the final days of the regular season.
''It was unfortunate we put ourselves in the predicament we did where we had to run the table,'' Reimer said. ''We played our hearts out, we did everything we could. We've fallen short right now, but I'm proud of the way we battled for the last couple months, especially today too.''
Leafs coach Ron Wilson was receiving up-to-the-second updates from Buffalo and would have pulled Reimer in overtime to try and get the winner if the Sabres had lost. His players knew what was going on, too.
''They had that ticker kind of going around the rink,'' Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn said. ''We were checking every once in a while. I was sitting beside Timmy Brent in the third period and he said it was 3-2 and then 4-2. He was giving me updates.''
As good as the Capitals have been in the regular season in recent years, they've failed to translate that into any significant postseason success, not making it past the second round in any of the past three seasons. They were ousted in the first round by Montreal last year after finishing as the top team in the NHL.
Washington's implemented some changes over the course of this season, with an eye toward becoming a team built more for grinding out close-checking playoff games. The addition of big center Jason Arnott at the trade deadline helped the transition.
''I think we're more responsible,'' Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''We've got a few more vocal guys than we had last year and that's probably the biggest change.''
Kulemin got the Leafs off to a good start with his 30th goal of the season. With linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur going to the net, he fooled Michal Neuvirth with a wrist shot off the rush at 5:37 of the first on a power play.
Toronto did a nice job of carrying the early momentum, but it started to slip away with two straight penalties.
Ovechkin tied it 1-1 while the Caps held a 5-on-3 advantage, wiring a point shot past Reimer for his 31st of the season and 300th of his NHL career.
The Leafs went back ahead just 1:35 into the second period. Phil Kessel found Lupul with a perfect cross-ice pass and the big winger converted his fifth goal in the last seven games.
Washington continued to press and was rewarded with a good bounce when Erskine's wrist shot from the point bounced off Luke Schenn's glove and into the goal at 12:07.
The score was tied heading to the final period despite Washington holding a 26-10 advantage on shots.
NOTES: Fredrik Sjostrom and Brett Lebda were scratched for Toronto. ... Capitals D Mike Green sat out his 18th straight game with a concussion, but could return Wednesday against Florida. ... Alex Semin also sat out for Washington. ... Erskine got his first goal since Nov. 26.