The Washington Capitals have rued missed opportunities all season, but Monday seemed to hurt even more. The Caps allowed the Tampa Bay Lightning to score the game-winning goal with just over a minute left in regulation en route to a 4-2 victory, leaving them with nothing to show for their efforts, namely much-needed points.
While they didn't play Tuesday, the Caps had vested interest in the goings on around the NHL as the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers hosted the Winnipeg Jets, while the Buffalo Sabres, who entered Tuesday trailing Washington by two points, hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Washington was depending on the kindness of strangers; a Jets win would prevent the Panthers from officially clinching the Southeast Division and a Leafs regulation win would keep the Sabres two points behind the Caps for the eighth and final playoff spot with two games remaining.
Things seemed to be going alright early; the Panthers and Leafs opened up 3-0 leads over their respective opponents and it looked as if though the Caps would finally settle into a playoff spot. Yet, both leads evaporated. Buffalo rallied to defeat Toronto 6-5 in overtime, tying them with the Caps with 88 points with two games left. Down south, Winnipeg took a 4-3 lead late into the third period before Florida tied it. The Jets, however, earned the victory in overtime by a 5-4 score, but the Panthers earned a point for making it to overtime.
It was a crazy night to say the least, but what does this mean for the Caps? I will do my best to explain:
- The Panthers now have a four-point lead over the Caps. Florida visits D.C. Thursday in a game that Washington must win in regulation to still have a chance at their fifth straight division title. Any point earned by the Panthers in their final two games gives them the division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps must go 2-0-0 and the Panthers must go 0-2-0 for the former to win the division.
- The Sabres are tied with the Caps, but the latter holds the tiebreaker with more regulation/overtime wins (non-shootout wins). The Sabres must earn more points than the Caps in their final two games to qualify for the playoffs; if Buffalo ties Washington, Washington earns the spot.
- I haven't even mentioned the Ottawa Senators yet, who lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 Tuesday. A point for the Sens would have clinched seventh place in the East, but that is still up for grabs.
Let me make this as simple as possible. Today is Wednesday, the regular season ends on Saturday and the Caps could finish in third, seventh, eighth or ninth.
Adam Vingan is co-founder and editor of Kings Of Leonsis, a Caps-centric blog, and is the Capitals Editor for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_KOL and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.