Caps Lose Regular Season Finale; Will Face Rangers in 1st Round of Playoffs; NHL Notes

April 11, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

In a meaningless game, as far as playoff implications go, the Washington Capitals lost their last regular season game of the season to the now golf course bound Florida Panthers, 7-4. I’m not going to waste a lot of time blogging about this one because what I saw of the game was a Caps team with a lack of intensity and not much mental focus, especially in their defensive end. The shots were 42-41 for Florida so this game resembled more of an All-Star type game than a regular season or playoff contest. The Panthers won this game in the last five minutes scoring twice in eight seconds after Alexander Ovechkin scored his 56th goal of the season to tie the contest at four with just under seven minutes left. Florida’s final goal was into an empty net.

There was some good news in the loss as Washington got two goals and one assist from Alexander Semin, who finished with 34 goals and 45 assists for 79 points in just 62 games, and the Great #8 added an assist to to go with his goal to finish with 110 points in just 79 games (good for second overall in the NHL in scoring behind Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh). The best news though was that no Cap appeared to get injured, although a couple of Caps took some shots off their bodies (Jeff Schultz in the hand in the third period and Ovechkin took a shot in the leg late in the game from one of his teammates but appeared to be fine afterwards on his last couple of shifts).

On the playoff planning front, with the Pittsburgh Penguins defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1, on Saturday night the Caps will now face the New York Rangers in the first round of the post season. The Caps were 3-0-1 against New York this season but as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau pointed out after the loss, this is not the same Rangers team that Washington played earlier in the season. In fact, Washington last played New York on February 11 (a 5-4 shootout loss at Madison Square Garden) and since that time the Rangers have changed their head coach (John Tortorella replaced Tom Renney on February 23rd) and re-acquired pesky forward Sean Avery. Under Tortorella, New York has gone 11-6-1 heading into Sunday’s game at Philadelphia, which means nothing to the Rangers, but if the Flyers get at least a point they have home ice advantage in their first round series with the Penguins.

NHL News

The matchups are now set in the Eastern Conference and are as follows:

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

(2) Washington Capitals vs. (7) New York Rangers

(3) New Jersey Devils vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes

(4) or (5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (5) or (4) Pittsburgh Penguins (Flyers get #4 seed with a point on Sunday)

I’ll have a full analysis of the Caps-Rangers series on Monday night (I plan on attending Monday’s practice) as well as the rest of the Eastern Conference matchups on Monday or Tuesday.

Big news today out of Detroit as the Red Wings signed forward Johan Franzen to an 11 year, $43.5M deal. Franzen is only 29 years old and reportedly he will make between $5M and $5.5M the first seven years of the deal. After locking up all star forward Henrik Zetterberg earlier this year the Wings now hope to sign free agent forward Marian Hossa, who is 30, to a long term deal in the off-season. I was surprised that the Wings opted to sign Franzen first over Hossa but to question the Red Wings organization and GM Ken Holland would be galacticly stupid given that team’s success.

The Calgary Flames, who many declared as the 2009 NHL trade deadline winners when they acquired forward Olli Jokinen and defenseman Jordan Leopold, collapsed down the stretch, primarily due to injury problems, and allowed the Vancouver Canucks to swoop in and capture the Northwest Division title and the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Calgary was without three of their top four defensemen in a 5-1 loss to Edmonton Friday night (they missed Dion Phaneuf (undisclosed), Robyn Regehr (lower body), and Corey Sarich (foot)), and were forced to play with only 15 skaters because they could not call any players up due to the salary cap. The Flames, who had their entire second line out for over three weeks (Daymond Langkow (hand), Todd Bertuzzi (knee), and Rene Bourque (ankle)) after the trade deadline are still missing Bourque, who had a career high 21 goals in 58 games, who has been on injured reserve since February 21. Calgary also was without forward Curtis Glencross who has been a very good role player for the Flames this season. If the Flames do not get several of these players back they will get buried by their first round opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks, a team they have struggled with the last couple of seasons.

More big news in the West, the Anaheim Ducks have just lost, 5-4, in a shootout to the Phoenix Coyotes meaning either the Red Wings or the San Jose Sharks now get the Ducks in the first round, who won the Stanley Cup in 2007. If I am Detroit or San Jose that is the one team I don’t want to face in the opening round. If the St. Louis Blues defeat the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday then the Western Conference playoff matchups will be as follows:

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Anaheim Ducks

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) St. Louis Blues

(4) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Calgary Flames

If the Blues lose then they finish eighth and get the Sharks, the Red Wings would get the Ducks, and Vancouver would play Columbus. St. Louis has been a great story this year as they’ve come from last place in the West to make the playoffs despite a rash of injuries, including hip surgery to star forward Paul Kariya. On Friday it was reported that Kariya could come back and play for the Blues in the playoffs.

I’ll have my Western Conference playoff preview up on Sunday or Monday night.