WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals clinched their second consecutive Southeast Division title despite losing 5-4 to the Buffalo Sabres on Jason Pominville's breakaway goal 1:51 into overtime Friday night.
The point awarded for getting to overtime was enough to give the Capitals a nine-point cushion ahead of second-place Carolina, which has four games left.
Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur and Maxim Afinogenov also scored for Buffalo, which is hanging onto faint hopes of earning a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Sergei Fedorov scored twice for Washington, Alex Ovechkin raised his NHL-leading goal total to 55, and Alexander Semin netted his 30th.
Unlike last season - when they were at the bottom of the league standings in late November and weren't assured of the title until winning their last game - the Capitals built a big early lead and clinched with four games to spare.
There wasn't a wild celebration this year on the bench and the ice at game's end. This was, after all, a loss, so there was none of the back-slapping and hugging and yelling that accompanied the 2007-08 triumph, which was the franchise's first division title since 2000-01.
Asked before the game how much time he'd spent discussing the possibility of locking up the division, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau offered a one-word answer: "None."
"Because we want business as usual. We just want to win every game, whether something is on the line or something is not on the line," Boudreau said.
Buffalo, meanwhile, really needed a victory. It began the day in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, six points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers. Plus, the Sabres started a stretch run in which they'll play six games in nine days, including matchups against such top teams as Detroit, Boston and New Jersey.
Buffalo led 2-1 in the second period, but Washington went ahead with goals nine seconds apart by Semin and Fedorov.
Semin tied it at 3:41 mark during a 5-on-3 power play, camping out near the crease and poking in a rebound. Then, during a 5-on-4, Washington went ahead thanks to Fedorov - and thanks to Tomas Fleischmann. It was Fleischmann who went diving to his left to block a clear attempt and keep the puck inside the blue line. The puck went right to Fedorov, whose rising slap shot sailed over Kelly Miller's shoulder.
The Sabres made it 3-3 on their own power play, awarded when Fedorov was whistled for hooking. Roy deflected Tim Connolly's shot from the point through his own legs, and through the legs of rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov.
This time, all of 23 seconds went by - the assists awarded on Roy's score were still being announced to the crowd - before Fedorov corralled a puck that went off the boards. Again not far inside the blue line, he wheeled and sent a slap shot through a crowd and into the net.
Buffalo thought it had tied it when the puck went past Varlamov about 2 1/2 minutes into the third period, but the apparent goal was waved off because Afinogenov made contact with the goalie. Afinogenov eventually did make it 4-all, with 9 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
Ovechkin had put Washington ahead 1-0 on a power-play goal about 5 1/2 minutes into the game off a pass from Brooks Laich. The Sabres then scored twice in a 48-second span, the second goal credited to MacArthur when his pass was accidentally knocked into the net by Washington's Viktor Kozlov.
Notes: It was Varlamov's first NHL loss. ... The sellout crowd of 18,277 allowed the Capitals to break the franchise record for season attendance with one game left, topping the 710,990 set in 2001-02. ... Sabres G Patrick Lalime was scratched because of a hip injury. ... Washington D John Erskine was a healthy scratch.