With the start of the MLB season upon us, many baseball fans and general sports fans are looking back at the last day/night of the 2011 regular season, when the Red Sox and Braves completed their disastrous collapses while the Rays and Cardinals cemented epic comebacks for the ages.

While granted on a much, much smaller scale, the NHL may have had its own version of these events transpire in Buffalo and Florida on Tuesday night.

The Panthers needed a win to clinch their first Southeast Division title and first playoff berth in 12 years. The Sabres needed a victory to keep pace with the Capitals at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Sabres found themselves down 3-0 to the tanking Maple Leafs 17 minutes after puck drop. Meanwhile the Panthers had jumped ahead of the Jets 3-0 25 seconds into the second period, that elusive postseason spot lighting up their eyes like the hot Florida sun.

And then, in the span of an hour-and-a-half, it all changed. Buffalo sent Rick Jeanneret and the First Niagara Center into a frenzy with a frantic rally from 3-0 down, from 4-2 down and from 5-3 down to eventually grab two points on Derek Roy’s overtime winner, pulling even with Washington at 88 points after 80 games.

The Jets stormed back against the Panthers with four unanswered goals, eventually winning 5-4 in OT, giving Florida just one of the two points needed to clinch the Southeast.

At 8:30 p.m. ET, the Panthers looked playoff-bound and the Sabres were on life support. By 10:00 p.m. the Panthers left the ice still without a playoff spot and the Sabres left the ice with as good a shot as anybody.

Florida still needs just one point from two games to clinch, and Buffalo has work left to do this week, but if the Panthers ultimately cough up the division to the Caps and the Sabres sneak into eighth, 90 minutes on Tuesday night will be looked at as the defining moments for each.

And now, your morning links:

  • Florida Panthers meet the jinx (thehockeywriters.com). A much more detailed account of the scene I set above. This is an interesting read with intriguing details (Panthers broadcast had already started previewing Devils playoff matchup). It completely flew over my head that a Sabres loss also would have clinched a playoff spot for Florida, making the stunning two-game turnaround that much more epic if the Panthers collapse.
  • Jordan Leopold’s chaotic, controversial goal that saved the Sabres’ season (Puck Daddy). The plot thickens. At this point, I really hope the Panthers finish with back to back losses and the Capitals and Sabres finish 2-0-0, just to further dramatize Tuesday night’s events.
  • The Capitals are paying the price for their bad habits (Canada.com).
  • Why the Canucks may actually be the most sportsmanlike team (Puck Daddy). Hint, it has nothing to do with penalty minutes.
  • The Canucks held off the Ducks in an entertaining affair. (Nucks Misconduct). I’ll be honest, this post had me at Bruce Boudreau “should have been behind the bench stroking Mr Bigglesworth.”
  • Phil Kessel wants wins before (individual) points (Toronto Sun). As a Leafs fan, I’m really not sure how to feel about the fact that Kessel’s 81 points so far this season are the most by a Leaf in 13 years.
  • Love hurts for Canadian hockey fans (Montreal Gazette/Visa). I like the commercial, and as a Torontonian, can sadly relate, but I don’t understand why they chose to make the depressed lead character a Jets fan. I can’t imagine Winnipeg is as torn up over missing out on the playoffs in Year 1 of the Jets’ return as fans in Calgary or Toronto are about their teams’ (dis)respective collapses.
  • John Tortorella may be the Flyers’ nemeses (Philadelphis Inquirer). Another thing I didn’t realize – that the Rangers (who clinched the East’s top seed on Tuesday) went 6-0-0 against the Flyers this season and outscored Philly 24-11 in their six meetings. That seems crazy considering how evenly matched the division rivals should be.
  • On that note, here are eight reasons why the Rangers swept the season series with the Flyers (HockeyBuzz.com). What would have been less believable to you, that the Flyers lost all six meetings with the Rangers this season, or that Philadelphia failed to score a single first period goal in six tries against New York?
  • The Sharks stomped the Stars again, 5-2, to complete a “Texas Two Step” (Blades of Teal).
  • The Stars’ playoff chances are slim after their regulation loss to the Sharks (ESPN Dallas). Includes a look at the various races in each Conference.
  • By now you likely know that Mike Milbury has issued a half-assed and what I assume is a company-forced apology to the Penguins for his worthless comments, and Sidney Crosby has responded in typical Sid The Kid fashion. (The Sporting News)
  • Careless Flyers sticks help Artem Anisimov score this rare goal (theScore.com). While killing off one penalty, the Flyers take a hooking penalty on Anisimov, which is nullified since he scored before Philadelphia could grab possession. But Anisimov is then high-sticked immediately after the puck slides in, handing the Rangers another powerplay, which they also eventually convert on. Seriously, just cue the music.
  • I’ll end with a link to Bourne’s piece from yesterday on the Islanders’ embarrassing treatment of Pat LaFontaine (Backhand Shelf). Yes, I know you can find it by simply looking towards the “recent updates” panel on the right, but if you haven’t read this yet, I’m pushing it on you. It’s well written and is both fascinating yet infuriating.