Panthers, Coyotes secure first division wins

Panthers, Coyotes secure first division wins

Panthers, Coyotes secure first division wins

Florida Panthers’ Kris Versteeg (32) control the puck against Washington Capitals’ Matt Hendricks (R). REUTERS photo

The Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes celebrated their first division titles with convincing victories on the final day of the National Hockey League’s regular season on Saturday.

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.

Taylor Pyatt scored twice for Phoenix, who took third place in the Western Conference.

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.

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 claimed the top goal scorer’s title, becoming the first player since Ovechkin in 2008 to score 60 in a season.