NHL - Panthers, Coyotes secure division titles
The Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes celebrated their first division titles with convincing victories on the final day of the NHL's regular season.
The Panthers, set to return to the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons, smothered the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 to claim the Southeast title while Phoenix won the Pacific crown with their fifth consecutive victory, a 4-1 win over Minnesota.
Marcel Goc, John Madden and Stephen Weiss sparked Florida to a 3-0 lead and Mikael Samuelsson added an empty netter late in the third. Joni Pitkanen scored for Carolina.
Scott Clemmensen made 34 saves for the Panthers, who finished two points ahead of Washington in second.
"Pretty awesome," Weiss, wearing a championship cap and T-shirt, told said. "It's a surreal feeling. It hasn't been easy all year, and it wasn't easy tonight."
The third-seeded Panthers will face sixth-seeded New Jersey in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals.
Taylor Pyatt scored twice for Phoenix, who took third place in the Western Conference and will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs next week.
"This feels good," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Winning your division is one thing, but the key to winning your division is you get home ice in the first round."
The Coyotes have gone 20-6-5 since February 1.
"There was some times when it could have turned the other way, and our guys grabbed it and kept pushing along," said Tippett.
The Southeast crown went down to the wire after Washington beat Eastern Conference winners New York Rangers 4-1 earlier on Saturday. A Washington win and Florida loss in regulation would have given the Capitals their fifth consecutive division title.
Nicklas Backstrom put the Capitals up 4-0 in the second after goals by Alex Ovechkin, Mathieu Perreault and John Carlson in the opening period.
Braden Holtby had a strong showing in net for the Capitals, making 35 saves with starting netminder Michal Neuvirth and primary back-up Tomas Vokoun injured.
Western Conference champions Vancouver secured the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL team with the best regular season record thanks to a 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers and New York's loss to Washington.
The Canucks finished with 111 points. The Eastern champ Rangers and St. Louis had 109.
Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin claimed his second NHL points scoring title in four years, grabbing a goal (his 50th) and an assist to help the fourth-seeded Penguins top Philadelphia 4-2 in a match-up of teams who will meet in the postseason.
Malkin finished the regular season with 109 points. Sydney Crosby also had a goal and assist for Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos took the top goal scorer's title, becoming the first player since Ovechkin in 2008 to score 60 in a season. He got the milestone goal 3:29 into the third as the Lightning beat Winnipeg 4-3 in overtime.
Defending Stanley Cup champions Boston, the East's number two seed, beat Buffalo 4-3 on Patrice Bergeron's shootout score and New Jersey won their sixth in a row, defeating Ottawa 4-2 as Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice in a meeting of playoff bound teams.
In the Western Conference, Patrick Kane's shootout goal helped Chicago edge Detroit 3-2 but the sixth-seeded Blackhawks failed to overtake the Red Wings for fifth place.
Dan Boyle's overtime goal, his second of the game, gave San Jose a 3-2 victory over Los Angeles and the conference's seventh seed. Los Angeles finished eighth.