Pominville nets OT winner, but Caps clinch Southeast - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Pominville nets OT winner, but Caps clinch Southeast

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A year ago, at the culmination of a long trek

up the standings, the Washington 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 celebration to mark their second consecutive

title. No, this time, Washington's players quietly shuffled off

to the locker room, some with heads bowed, after clinching the

division despite losing to the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4, in overtime

Friday night.

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, led by Alex Ovechkin,

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 excited as the

sellout crowd of 18,277 was at the end of regulation, when the

tied score meant Washington had earned at least one standings

point. That was enough to give the Capitals a nine-point

cushion ahead of second-place 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 drank water or caught their breath by leaning

against the boards.

And then they went out and were beaten 1:51 into the extra

session, when Sergei Fedorov - who scored two goals in the

second period - turned over the puck, leading to Jason

Pominville's breakaway goal.

"We've got to get smarter to be able to play better," Boudreau

said.

Buffalo, meanwhile, celebrated as though it had won a playoff

game, which in a way, it had. The Sabres are in a mad dash to

try to reach the postseason. They are 10th in the Eastern

Conference, four 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.

"We needed this win," Pominville said. "We found a way."

Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur and Maxim Afinogenov

also scored for Buffalo, and Tim Connolly had three assists.

Ovechkin raised his NHL-leading goal total to 55 and Alexander

Semin netted his 30th for Washington.

Unlike last season - when they were at the bottom of the league

standings in late November - the Capitals built a big early lead

in the division and clinched with four games to spare.

Asked before the game how much time he'd spent discussing the

possibility of locking up the division, Boudreau offered a

one-word answer: "None."

Washington led, 1-0, then let Buffalo go up, 2-1, on goals 48

seconds apart. Then the Capitals went back in front with goals

nine seconds apart by Semin and Fedorov.

After Buffalo tied the game, Fedorov's second goal put

Washington ahead again, only to have Afinogenov make it 4-all

with nine minutes left in regulation. And then came Fedorov's

miscue in overtime.

"If you battle that hard, you're going to get rewarded," Sabres

coach Lindy Ruff said.

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