The playoff picture has become clear for Canada’s two oldest NHL teams.
That’s great news for the Montreal Canadiens, and bad tidings for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
P.K. Subban scored in overtime as the Canadiens clinched a playoff berth at home with a 2-1 win over the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“That was all the opportunity we needed and we had to finish it there,” said Subban. “I’m just glad we got the job done. It’s a great feeling to score in OT in this building, but we did it as a team.”
Meanwhile Toronto’s improbable playoff push was finally ended when Buffalo beat Tampa Bay 4-2. The Maple Leafs were still on the ice when the score was announced, then went on to a 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
“It was unfortunate we put ourselves in the predicament we did where we had to run the table,” said Leafs goalie James Reimer. “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.”
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Edmonton 2 Vancouver 0; Ottawa 5 Philadelphia 2; Pittsburgh 4 New Jersey 2; Nashville 6 Atlanta 3; Dallas 3 Columbus 0; and St. Louis 3 Colorado 1.
At Montreal, the sixth-place Habs (43-30-7) improved to 93 points with two games left. Although the Canadiens can still be caught on points by ninth-place Carolina, they hold the edge in the first tie-breaker—non-shootout wins.
A year ago, the Habs needed the point from an overtime loss to Toronto in the final game of the campaign to clinch a spot before making it all the way to the conference final.
“It’s good we don’t have to wait till the last game, but it’s not over,” said Michael Cammalleri, who scored Montreal’s goal in regulation.
Patrick Kane replied for the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks (42-28-9), who outshot Montreal 43-25, including 20-9 in a desperate third period.
Chicago, which rushes home to face St. Louis on Wednesday night, got a point for the overtime loss and moved into a tie with idle Anaheim for seventh in the Western Conference with 93 points, two more than Calgary and Dallas.
Subban drew an iffy tripping call on Chicago captain Jonathan Toews in overtime before one-timing a perfect feed from Andrei Kostisyn into the top corner of the Blackhawks’ net to send the Bell Centre into a frenzy.
“It’s more frustrating than heartbreaking,” Toews said. “We worked so hard out there, then you try lifting a guy’s stick and it ends up costing you the game.
“In overtime it’s 4-on-3, it’s a big difference. I was obviously not happy with that. It’s frustrating when you’re the guy that takes a penalty like that, but what can you do? It’s a crappy break.”
At Toronto, Reimer had an excellent game against the Caps with 41 saves—six of them coming off the stick of Alex Ovechkin, who looks fresh and rejuvenated with the playoffs just around the corner.
“Taking nothing away from the way the Leafs have played in the last month and a half, but (Reimer) was a real difference-maker today,” said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau. “We had some 10-bell chances and he rose to the test. I think the Leafs have got a good goalie there.”
With the playoff race officially over, the end of the game was anti-climactic. A number of fans had already headed for the exits at Air Canada Centre before the shootout even started.
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.
It’s the franchise-record sixth straight season the Maple Leafs will miss out on the playoffs. Only the Florida Panthers, who haven’t qualified since 2000, are currently locked in a longer drought.
“As players, we play to play in the playoffs, we play to try and win the Stanley Cup,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “When you’re eliminated from getting that opportunity, it doesn’t feel very good.”
Ovechkin scored his 300th career goal and John Erskine scored in regulation for the Capitals (47-22-11), who clinched the Southeast Division title for a fourth straight year.
Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul replied for Toronto (37-32-11).
“They looked a little tired—mentally tired,” said Boudreau. “It’s hard hanging on and hanging on and hanging on. I thought as the game wore on we kept getting it deep and wearing them down a little bit.”
At Edmonton, Devan Dubnyk made 26 saves, Ryan Jones and Magnus Paajarvi scored, and the last-place Oilers beat first-place Vancouver for the second consecutive game.
At Ottawa, Jason Spezza had a goal and three assists to lead the Senators past Philadelphia.
At Pittsburgh, Pascal Dupuis had two goals and the Penguins moved closer to clinching home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win over New Jersey.
At Nashville, Tenn., Jordin Tootoo and Sergei Kostitsyn each had two goals and an assist, and the Predators moved closer to clinching a playoff berth.
At Dallas, Kari Lehtonen made 23 saves for his 17th career shutout, Steve Ott scored his second goal in 25 games on the power play, and the Stars pulled closer to the final Western Conference playoff spot.
At St. Louis, Kevin Shattenkirk had a goal and an assist against his former team, Andy McDonald added a goal and two assists, and St. Louis beat Colorado.
At Buffalo, N.Y., Thomas Vanek scored three times to lead the Sabres within a point of clinching a playoff berth.