The Washington Capitals
hope their season has a couple more months remaining. The Toronto Maple Leafs
finally ran out of time.
The Caps moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 shootout victory at Toronto on Wednesday night. Mike Knuble
scored the only goal of the shootout in the fourth round to move the Capitals two points ahead of Philadelphia. The Caps officially clinched their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title late in the third period when Tampa Bay lost 4-2 at Buffalo.
The Leafs, who've been fighting an uphill battle for a playoff berth, finally ran out of time -- the victory by the Sabres ended their hopes of making the postseason for the first time since 2004.
"It was unfortunate we put ourselves in the predicament we did where we had to run the table," rookie goalie James 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.
"Going into overtime I think we all saw the score, that Buffalo had won, and we could have packed it in right there. As far as I could see, we controlled most of the overtime."
Reimer was the key to Toronto's 18-7-6 run after the All-Star break. He was their best player again on Tuesday with a 41-save performance -- including six against Alex Ovechkin
, who had plenty of jump with the playoffs 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," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We had some 10-bell chances and he rose to the test. I think the Leafs have got a good goalie there."
Leafs coach Ron Wilson was receiving up-to-the-second updates from Buffalo. His players knew what was going on as well.
"They had that ticker kind of going around the rink," 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."
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 in a longer drought.
"As players, we play to play in the playoffs, we play to try and win the Stanley Cup," captain Dion Phaneuf
said. "When you're eliminated from getting that opportunity, it doesn't feel very good."
Ovechkin and John Erskine
scored in regulation for the Capitals (47-22-11). Nikolai Kulemin
and Joffrey Lupul
connected for Toronto (37-32-11).
Washington outshot the Leafs 26-10 through two periods and would have ended the game long before the shootout if not for the play of Reimer.
"They looked a little tired -- mentally tired," Boudreau said. "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."
Kulemin got the Leafs off to a good start with his 30th goal of the season, fooling Michal Neuvirth
with a power-play wrister at 5:37.
Ovechkin tied it 1-1 while the Caps held a 5-on-3 advantage, wiring a one-timer from the left circle shot past Reimer for his 31st of the season and 300th of his NHL career -- he's the sixth-youngest player to reach the milestone.
"It feels good," Ovechkin said. "When you score 300 goals in six years, it's a big accomplishment. I play for a great team."
Lupul put the Leafs back in front 1:35 into the second period when he finished off Phil Kessel
's pass for his fifth goal in the last seven games. But Washington continued to press and got a break when Erskine's wrist shot from the point bounced off Schenn's glove and into the net at 12:07.
No one scored again until Knuble ended the game by zipping a wrister past Reimer in the shootout.
"GMs and coaches, they want players that can play in the playoffs," Reimer said. "As far as I'm concerned, this team has been playing in the playoffs for two months now and I think we've been playing great.
"We can hold our heads high, we're proud of the way we worked."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report.