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Capitals claim NHL’s final playoff spot after Flyers’ desperate goalie pull late in tied game

In Sports
April 17, 2024

The Washington Capitals claimed the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference Tuesday night, thanks to an unusual set of circumstances.

Heading into Tuesday, the Capitals had the advantage over the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers for the NHL’s last playoff spot. A Washington win, and they were in. If they lost in regulation, overtime or a shootout, there would be hope for the teams chasing them.

The Flyers had the most unique path to keep hope alive. They needed to beat the Capitals in regulation only, plus hope the Red Wings and Penguins also lost before overtime. If that had happened, Washington and Philadelphia would have been tied in the standings on wins, points, regulation wins and regulation and overtime wins. The one tiebreaker in their favor was head-to-head points.

Knowing all that, John Tortorella’s team needed to win in regulation just to have a chance at making it to the postseason.

That led to the scenario where the Flyers were tied with the Capitals in the third period, knowing they needed to prevent Washington from gaining any points at all from the game. With time running out, Tortorella pulled his goalie with three minutes to play for an extra attacker, which led to a T.J. Oshie empty-netter and a 2-1 victory for Washington.

“We’ll take it,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. “Thanks, Philly.”

The Capitals will now face the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

That Oshie goal not only put the Capitals in the playoffs, it also knocked out the Flyers, Red Wings and Penguins from contention.

What Tortorella did not know when he summoned goaltender Samuel Ersson to the bench was that the Flyers had already been eliminated at that point.

David Perron‘s goal with 3.3 seconds left against the Montreal Canadiens earned the Red Wings at least a point, which ended the Flyers’ playoff dreams. Detroit would go on to win after a shootout, but they were already knocked out with the Capitals victory.

“I had info on the Detroit game right after [Washington] scored their empty-netter,” Tortorella said afterward. “I think it happened pretty close together. But, I’m pulling him [in that situation]. That was the right time to pull him. [I] didn’t know anything was going on with Detroit at that time. But immediately after that our video guys told us that Detroit just went to overtime.”

The Capitals will now face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the first round — the sixth time the two franchises will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006.

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