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Panthers win Southeast; Washington leapfrogs Ottawa for seventh in East

In clinching the first division title in franchise history on Saturday night, the Florida Panthers closed the book on the NHL's Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, securing the Southeast Division crown and the No. 3 postseason seed. They will meet the No. 6 New Jersey Devils in Round 1.

It'll be a reunion of sorts for several parties in both franchises. Florida center John Madden, who scored Saturday vs. the Hurricanes, began his career in New Jersey and won two Stanley Cup titles there. And Devils coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.

New Jersey, who missed the postseason for the first time since 1996 last year, won six straight games to close the regular season.

"It's one of the things we talked about. We wanted to get into the playoffs playing well. We've played as good of hockey as anyone else in the league," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Now, the regular season is over.

"We will try to concentrate on the things we have to do. We did a good job staying focused. You never know what's going to happen."

The New York Rangers, who reserved the East top seed on Tuesday, will meet the No. 8 Ottawa Senators, who drifted down to the last seed after losing three in a row to close the year.

The other two East series feature the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins meeting the No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers, and the No. 2 Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, taking on the No. 7 Washington Capitals.

Washington scored three first-period goals and third-string goaltender Braden Holtby made 35 saves Saturday night to help the Capitals beat the Rangers 4-1, spoiling New York's chance to clinch the Presidents' Trophy.

The Rangers (51-24-7) finished with 109 points for the third time in franchise history and remain tied with Vancouver for the league's top spot. The Canucks host Edmonton later Saturday.

The Capitals quieted the Madison Square Garden crowd quickly as Alex Ovechkin and Mathieu Perreault scored on Washington's first two shots against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Ovechkin got his 38th goal of the season just 32 seconds into the game after Brooks Laich won a faceoff and backhanded the puck back to Ovechkin, who fired a wrist shot past Lundqvist.

First-period goals from Marcel Goc and Madden and 33 saves from Scott Clemmensen helped the Panthers beat the Hurricanes.

Stephen Weiss -- who's headed to the playoffs for the first time after making his NHL debut with the Panthers 10 years ago -- also scored for Florida.

Joni Pitkanen scored and Brian Boucher made 23 saves for Carolina.

The NHL will announce the first-round schedule today.

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