- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Capitals came ever so close to clinching their first-ever Eastern Conference regular-season title on Thursday.

Fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to the Hurricanes thanks to goals by Alexander Semin and John Carlson’s first-ever tally early in the third period, the Caps set a new franchise record with their 109th point of the season by forcing overtime in Raleigh.

Nearly 500 miles northeast of RBC Center, the Rangers’ Chris Drury gave Washington a chance to clinch when his goal with :17 left in regulation prevented the Devils from hanging on for a 3-2 win in regulation.

So, with the Eastern clincher on the line for Washington, both the Capitals and Devils played scoreless overtime sessions and went into shootouts — at the same time — with the Capitals needing a win and a Devils loss to officially wrap up the top seed in their half of the playoff bracket.

Things looked good for Washington early in the shootouts, as New York’s Erik Christensen scored an unusual goal that seemed to ring off all three posts to open the shootout in Newark, while Nicklas Backstrom scored on Washington’s first shot in the session.

MORE COVERAGE: LaRose’s goal hands Caps 3-2 shootout loss

However, although the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist made New York’s lone tally hold up, Washington’s Semyon Varlamov was beaten by Ray Whitney on Carolina’s third shot to force the extra rounds, then by Chad LaRose to hand the Capitals a 3-2 shootout loss — and meaning the clincher will have to wait at least two more days.

The shootout loss kept both the Sabres and Devils alive in the Eastern race, and made the clincher a bit more complicated for the Caps.

The Sabres can still reach 110 points on the year if they win their final 10 games, and now would hold the tiebreaker over Washington with fewer overtime losses. New Jersey can now only reach 109 points — and technically could only tie Washington in points — but also would hold the tiebreaker over Washington.

The Capitals can clinch the No. 1 seed Sunday regardless of any other out-of-town scores. Buffalo plays host to Ottawa Friday and Tampa Bay Saturday, and need to win both to stay alive in the race by Sunday, as despite being able to reach 110 points, another overtime loss would swing the tiebreaker Washington’s way. As for New Jersey, a single point lost in its final nine games — will officially eliminate the Devils, which could come Saturday when they face the Canadiens.

Washington gets its first chance to get the clincher themselves when they host Calgary Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.

But, on a night where the Capitals got a come-from-behind point to break the team’s one-year old franchise record for points in a single season, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was in no mood to celebrate the new standard.

“We lost the game,” Boudreau said. “No one’s celebrating the loss.”

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