Trailing 5-4 with less than two minutes to play in the third period, Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold emerged from a nearly eight-second, eight-man scrum and slid the puck past goalie Ben Scrivens to tie the game. The Sabres eventually beat the Maple Leafs 6-5 in overtime to move into an eighth-place tie with the Capitals in the Eastern Conference.
Both the tying goal and the two points the Sabres secured in the standings caught the Capitals' attention.
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The day after, the Florida Panthers didn't try to pretend they didn't still feel the sting of wasting a great opportunity to clinch a playoff berth and the first division title in franchise history. READ MORE ›
"No player wants a quick whistle," Knuble said, "but if that's regular-season game 40, that's blown down five seconds before that goal goes in."
Instead, this was regular-season game 80, and that was the message Capitals coach Dale Hunter relayed to his team during a morning video session. Using Leopold's tying goal as "a teaching clip," Hunter played the goal for all to see, reminding the Caps that battles intensify this time of year.
"I'm not blaming the ref," Hunter said. "I'm just saying, it's close to playoff hockey again and that's what you get with playoff hockey where things are more intense and you just keep battling to the end."
Added defenseman Karl Alzner: "It was just showing that it's the end of the year and sometimes you get away with a little more, so it's just like don't give up on the play. That's what Dale was saying -- if you get in a situation like this, just keep digging and if you're a D-man keep pushing and do whatever you can to get someone out of there. It was just a straight up teaching clip."
The video clip also served as another reminder of Buffalo's comeback win and the reality that the Capitals cannot rely on outside help as they chase their fifth straight playoff appearance.
With two games to play in the regular season, the Capitals and Sabres are tied with 88 points each, although Washington owns the tiebreak.
In its simplest form, if the Capitals win their remaining two games, they will be playoff-bound. One win for the Caps combined with one regulation loss for the Sabres also does the trick.
"I have a belief we're going to be in the playoffs and that's it," Brooks Laich said. "I don't want to discuss any scenario that we're not. My belief is that we're going to be in the playoffs.
"We're not worried about Buffalo doing this or that, or who's going to win or lose. The only thing that we can control is what we do, and we can't control Buffalo's schedule or Florida's. Our sole focus is on winning a hockey game [Thursday], whether it's regulation, overtime or shootout. Just win."
The Capitals still have an outside shot at winning the Southeast Division should they win their remaining two games and the Panthers lose their remaining two games in regulation. The Caps and Panthers meet Thursday at Verizon Center, then the Panthers host the Carolina Hurricanes in Saturday's season finale. The Caps visit the New York Rangers in their final game of the regular season Saturday.
"It's nice to still have a chance at the division," Laich said. "That was a goal when we set out at the start of the season. But I don't think you can get too wrapped up in that. You want it, but I don't think you can let that take you over. The focus, it's just got to be on winning the game and however that comes, I don't think you can change your game."
"He's a tough guy," Hunter said. "He's one of those guys that block a lot of shots. He's one of the most hits in the League. And he takes his hits, too. If you go in the corner you're going to get hit, too. So he's one of these power forwards that every coach loves to have on their team."