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Sabres 5, Capitals 4, OT @NHLdotcom

WASHINGTON (AP) -Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals were the ones who clinched a second consecutive Southeast Division title.

Jason Pominville and the Buffalo Sabres were the ones who got to celebrate wildly.

The Capitals, you see, earned one standings point for an overtime loss - the point they needed to be sure the second-place Carolina Hurricanes can't catch them.

And the Sabres were thrilled to pull out the 5-4 victory on Pominville's goal 1:51 into the extra session Friday night, because they boosted their faint playoff hopes.

"Any way we can get points," said Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who gave up Ovechkin's NHL-leading 55th goal and also drew loud boos for shoving the league's reigning MVP to the ice in the third period.

A year ago, at the culmination of a long trek up the standings, the Capitals reveled when they finished atop the Southeast Division by winning their 82nd game, hugging and jumping and yelling with delight.

There was no such enthusiasm Friday. No, this time, Washington's players quietly shuffled off to the locker room, some with heads bowed.

Maybe it's tough to get too excited after any defeat.

Maybe it's the way Washington lost, blowing three leads.

And maybe it's because these Capitals have bigger things in mind.

"Before the season started, we said we were going to win, and we have one goal in mind," coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and we aren't there yet."

Which is why his players weren't nearly as exuberant as the sellout crowd of 18,277 was at the end of regulation, when the tied score meant the Capitals would have no less than a nine-point cushion ahead of Carolina, which has four games left.

"You know what? It's an accomplishment, but it's an accomplishment we thought was going to happen," Boudreau said. "I mean, let's face it, Carolina would have to win 12 in a row and we'd have to lose all of our games. It would be a monumental collapse."

So the fans rose and applauded as "Washington Capitals, 2008-2009 Southeast Division Champions" was displayed on the above-ice video board and U2's "Beautiful Day" blared over the arena loudspeakers.

But the players just drank water or caught their breath by leaning against the boards.

And then they went out and were beaten in OT when Sergei Fedorov - who scored two goals earlier - turned over the puck, leading to Pominville's breakaway goal.

Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur and Maxim Afinogenov also scored for Buffalo, and Tim Connolly had three assists. The Sabres are still 10th in the Eastern Conference, but now they're only two points behind the ninth-place Panthers, and four behind the eighth-place Rangers.

"We needed this win," Pominville said. "We found a way. I'll take it."

Nikolai Khabibulin made 25 saves, Jonathan Toews scored his team-leading 32nd goal, and the host Blackhawks clinched their first playoff berth in seven years by beating Nashville.

Samuel Pahlsson scored in the first period and Martin Havlat added an empty-net goal for the Blackhawks, who qualified for the postseason for only the second time in 11 seasons.

At Newark, N.J., Martin Brodeur made seven saves in a rare relief role after Kevin Weekes got hurt, and Zach Parise scored in overtime as the Devils snapped a six-game losing streak.

Jamie Langenbrunner scored twice, Brendan Shanahan connected on a penalty shot, and Jay Pandolfo also tallied for the Devils, who swept the four-game season series from the Lightning.

Tampa Bay got goals from Evgeny Artyukin, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Martins Karsums.

Rich Peverley scored his second goal of the game in the third period to break a tie and lift visiting Atlanta.

Todd White added a goal for the Thrashers with 1:03 left as goalie Craig Anderson headed to the bench. Colby Armstrong had two assists for Atlanta, which earned its fourth straight win and fifth in six games.

Gregory Campbell scored the lone goal for Florida, which missed a chance to tie the eighth-place New York Rangers in points at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Jeff Carter scored three goals, Danny Briere had a goal and three assists for the host Flyers.

Simon Gagne, Randy Jones, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell also had goals for the Flyers, who scored five in the first period and passed Carolina for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Carter's first NHL hat trick gave him 44 goals.

Luke Schenn, Boyd Devereaux and Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Leafs in the last four minutes of the second period to cut a 6-0 deficit in half. Nikolai Kulemin and Jamal Mayers also had goals for Toronto.

Minnesota finally figured out Miikka Kiprusoff with three goals on 10 shots in the first period and shut out visiting Calgary.

Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck and Owen Nolan scored in the first for the 10th-place Wild, who moved within two points of eighth-place St. Louis and the postseason cutoff in the Western Conference.

Niklas Backstrom made 27 saves for his eighth shutout of the season, the second most in the NHL.

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