Caps Clinch Playoff Berth

  • Friday, April 6, 2012 2:58 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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What a night in Chinatown. Wow. I was rocking the red with more than 18,000 Washington Capitals fans at the Verizon Center in a must-win game for the Caps in the second-to-last game of the regular season. When the night began, the Caps held a very tenuous lead for the eighth and final playoff spot with Buffalo breathing down their necks. The Caps and Sabres were tied at 88 points with the Caps owning the tiebreaker. The Caps played the Panthers while the Sabres played at Philadelphia.

Many anxious Caps fans were wondering which team would show up. Would it be the desperate team that eked out recent shootout wins against Boston and Montreal? Or would it be the team that laid an egg against the Sabres 5-1 at home and blew a lead late against the Lightning and Steven Stamkos? The Caps started strong with goals by Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich to take a 3-0 lead and chase Panthers goalie and former Capital Jose Theodore out of the net. Curiously, only minutes later Cats coach Kevin Dineen put Theodore back in the game. A very curious coaching decision not keeping Scott Clemmensen in the game.

Then a freak accident injured Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth as a Panthers player seemed to have fallen on Neuvirth's leg. Neuvirth was in obvious pain as he was helped to the locker room. In a season of adversity for the Caps, this was but another chapter. Number one veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun is already out for the season and now the Caps would have to rely on backup netminder Braden Holtby to keep their posteason hopes alive.

The Cats clawed their way back into the game, and after scoring an early goal in the third period to make it 3-2, Caps fans were nervous given the history of the Caps blowing leads and choking in big time games. The Panthers also have a recent history of taking games into overtime. But 18,000 plus fans at the VC had one eye on the ice and one eye on the out of town scoreboard, so when the Sabres-Flyers game became final with Philly winning 2-1, a thunderous roar came up from the stands and the Caps players definitely noticed.

Did Caps fans will their team to victory? Perhaps. All I know is that the energy in the building was amazing after finding out the Sabres had lost with about seven minutes left in the Caps game and a 3-2 lead. The Caps players seemed to have fed off the energy because they survived some great chances by the Panthers and then Alex Semin scored the biggest goal of his career with a backhand shot top shelf over Theodore's shoulder as four Panthers stood and watched helplessly as Semin worked his magic.

As the seconds ticked down, the Verizon Center was rocking as Caps players saluted the fans at center ice and celebrated an improbable playoff berth in this roller coaster season. Buffalo had a great run and they will be competitive for years to come. But tonight the Caps showed heart and character, two words not usually associated with this team.

Congrats to the Panthers, who also clinched a playoff spot because of the Buffalo loss. On Saturday the Caps have a chance to win the Southeast Division by beating the Rangers at MSG and the Panthers losing to the Hurricanes at BankAtlantic Center in regulation. Either way, the Capitals and Panthers will be dancing into the NHL playoffs.

Here is video of the sights and sounds from the end of the game last night at the Verizon Center as the Caps and their fans celebrated the team's fifth straight posteason berth in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Southeast is Scary Good

  • Sunday, October 31, 2010 2:48 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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The NHL's Southeast Division until as recently as last season was considered the weakest division in hockey. Except for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers were awful compared to the rest of the league.

But ten games into this young season there have been noticeable improvements in every team, most notably the Lightning, who as of October 31st have the second best record in the league at 7-2-1 for 15 points -- one point behind the Los Angeles Kings.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING:



New General Manager Steve Yzerman has brought his wealth of experience and winning ways from the Detroit Red Wings to this franchise and has started to put the pieces together to rebuild the Bolts into a championship-caliber team that will challenge the Caps for Southeast supremacy.

In the offseason, Yzerman resigned Martin St. Louis; signed defensemen Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark and goaltender Dan Ellis; and brought in Simon Gagne via trade. Those acquisitions added to an already potent lineup that includes Vincent Lecavalier and reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner and goal-scoring machine Steven Stamkos. Last season Stamkos finished with 51 goals and 44 assists for 91 points.

ATLANTA THRASHERS:



The Thrashers, or Chicago South, made a bunch of big moves in the offseason. It started with the organization deciding not to renew the contract of Head Coach Jon Anderson and his coaching staff. Former General Manager Don Waddell was promoted to President of Hockey Operations, Rick Dudley former Assistant GM was promoted to General Manager.

The first move was a major nine-player trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu to Atlanta. Later the Thrashers also traded for Blackhawk Andrew Ladd. The next day the team named Craig Ramsay as the new head coach, along with new staff in other key positions within the organization.

The Thrashers currently sit in third place in the Southeast division with a record of 5-4-2 for 12 points.

CAROLINA HURRICANES:

After an atrocious start to last season, one in which they finished with only 35 wins, the Canes are rebuilding with a youth movement and a veteran goaltender to back them up. So far in this young season former Vezina Award winner Cam Ward has been playing brilliantly.

Carolina has a mix of proven veterans like Ward, Captain Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruttu and Erik Cole and young talent like Jeff Skinner, Brandon Sutter, and eventually, when they are called up, Jon Matsumoto and Bobby Sanguinetti.

The Canes are currently sitting at 5-5-0 with 10 points.

FLORIDA PANTHERS:



The Panthers still have a ways to go until they become an elite team in the NHL. But they are making progress. And they might just be able to avoid the distinction of being the first city with ten consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, although they are probably too soon in their rebuild to make the postseason.

Like the Hurricanes, the Panthers at least have a rock-solid goaltender in Thomas Vokoun, who has the ability to keep them in every game. And new General Manager Dale Tallon is beginning to put his imprint upon the organization. Tallon built the Blackhawks to the current Stanley Cup championship team so the Panthers are in good hands.

Some of the players Tallon nabbed in the offseason were blueliner Dennis Wideman and forward Steve Bernier. Tallon also added Christopher Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Mike Santorelli and Mike Weaver.

The new-look Panthers are currently 4-5-0 with eight points.

A tougher Southeast Division is good for professional hockey because it makes more games competitive and means that there will be more of a fight for every playoff spot. Also, the Capitals are finding out that they won't be able to cruise through the regular season like they have in past years, and the rest of the league is starting to figure out that they can't take any Southeast Division opponent for granted.

Panthers Fans Help Haitian Neighbors

  • Thursday, January 14, 2010 7:37 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Haiti is only 681 miles from Miami, Florida, which is a little more than half the distance it took the visiting Capitals to return to D.C. following their 5-4 shootout victory over the Panthers Wednesday night at BankAtlantic Center.

Given the proximity to South Florida and the many Haitian-Americans living in the region, the Panthers collected donations from fans before the game for the countless victims of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that rocked Port-au-Prince on Sunday, Jan. 10.

Panthers fans will also have the opportunity to donate to relief efforts at the Lightning game this Saturday.

"This was a tragic and devastating event for the citizens of Haiti, as well as the numerous South Florida residents that have family members residing in the area," said Florida Panthers President & COO Michael Yormark. "We encourage our fans to help support this worthy cause and help the victims who are suffering from this unfortunate tragedy."

Also, yesterday the NHL announced it was donating $100,000 to UNICEF for Haiti relief.

"The catastrophe in Haiti requires an urgent response from the National Hockey League family," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The victims need food, water, temporary housing and basic medical supplies, and the emergency effort by UNICEF is helping to provide those critical commodities to communities in desperate need."

To donate and find out more information about the earthquake visit www.unicef.org.

Here is a brief video of Panthers fans dropping off donations before the game: