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Preds beat Caps, seal best record

Reuters

The Predators celebrate their third-period goal against the Capitals on Thursday.

The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — Nashville Predators players stood around the locker room after beating the Washington Capitals 4-3, huddled around cellphones watching and rooting for more franchise history.

Seconds after the Boston Bruins lost to the Florida Panthers in regulation on Thursday night, Mattias Ekholm yelled out, “Yeah boys!” as teammates high-fived to celebrate the first Presidents’ Trophy in the team’s 19-year history.

A year after the Predators made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they’ve clinched home ice throughout the playoffs as the top team in the NHL during the regular season.

The road to the Cup now runs through Nashville.

“It’s a pretty good night for us,” captain Roman Josi said. “Obviously the big goal for every team is to win the Stanley Cup, but you can’t win the Stanley Cup right now. It was something we took a lot of pride in, and I think it’s a big accomplishment for us.”

Josi, who scored a power-play goal in the clincher, said he and fellow Predators players looked at the rafters of other buildings this season and wanted to earn more than just the one “Western Conference Champions 2016-17” banner that currently hangs in Bridgestone Arena.

They accomplished that in Washington thanks to two goals from Craig Smith, a game-winner from Ryan Johansen and 29 saves from backup goaltender Juuse Saros, setting a franchise record with 52 wins in the process.

“It’s always just been about home ice and trying to stay in our building, give ourselves the best chance to be successful in the playoffs,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “With that, those things happen. You end up winning a division, a conference and first place in the league.”

Devils end playoff drought

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — As five years of hockey frustration ended for the New Jersey Devils, players embraced, raised their sticks to salute their long-suffering fans and just imagined what the future held.

The New Jersey Devils are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012, knowing they have a shot at the Stanley Cup, like 15 other teams after clinching a postseason berth with a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Their win over the Maple Leafs was their 44th of the season and gave them 97 points with a game to go in the regular season.

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