The Florida Panthers ended a 12-year playoff drought on Thursday night despite a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, who also earned a postseason bid to complete the eight-team field for the Eastern Conference.
Both teams qualified after Buffalo lost in Philadelphia.
Still to be determined are the winners of the Southeast Division. The Panthers are in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, but they also will win their first division title in franchise history if they gain at least a point at home against Carolina or if the Capitals lose to the New York Rangers today, the final day of the regular season.
In a strange game that included three goalie changes in a six-minute stretch in the second period, the Capitals raced to a 3-0 lead with goals from Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich. Of significant concern for Washington is a left leg injury that sent Michal Neuvirth to the locker room, leaving Braden Holtby as the only healthy netminder on the roster.
Mikael Samuelson and Ed Jovanovski scored to start a comeback that fell short for the Panthers, who switched from Jose Theodore to Scott Clemmensen and back to Theodore in the second period.
Alexander Semin scored an insurance goal for the Capitals with 1:02 to play.
The Panthers haven’t played a playoff game since 2000.
Florida enter the postseason despite dropping eight of their last nine, relying heavily on losing in overtime and shootouts to gain standings points.
FLYERS 2, SABRES 1
In Philadelphia, Matt Read and Marc-Andre Bourdon scored to lead Philadelphia past Buffalo, eliminating the Sabres from postseason contention.
The Sabres needed to beat the Flyers and have Florida top Washington to keep their faint playoff hopes alive heading into their final game of the season.
Read beat goalie Ryan Miller on a breakaway with 4:21 left in the game to end Buffalo’s bid.
Ville Leino scored for Buffalo.
PREDATORS 2, STARS 0
In Nashville, Tennessee, Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, Francis Bouillon scored and Nashville beat Dallas to grab back control of their playoff berth with its third win in four games.
With the win and Detroit losing to New Jersey, Nashville moved back into fourth in the Western Conference, a point ahead of the Red Wings. Now the Predators need only wrap up the regular season tonight in Colorado with a win to start the playoffs at home and finish ahead of Detroit for the first time.
Patric Hornqvist had an assist and clinched the win with a goal with two minutes left.
The Stars lost their fourth straight in being eliminated. The Stars came in ninth and needed at least a point, but the loss allowed Los Angeles and Phoenix to clinch berths.
Rinne was back in net for Nashville after sitting out Tuesday night in a shootout win against Minnesota and he got his NHL-leading 43rd victory by stopping 12 shots in the third.
PENGUINS 5, RANGERS 2
In Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves to tie the Pittsburgh franchise record for victories and the Penguins beat New York to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang each had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, the No. 4 seeds in the Eastern Conference for the fourth consecutive season. They will play Philadelphia in the first round.
Tyler Kennedy and Richard Park also scored to help the Penguins reach 50 wins for the second time in franchise history. Fleury has 226 victories, matching Tom Barrasso’s mark from 1988-2000.