Jimmy Howard, Erik Cole

East playoff update: Canes beat Red Wings, Capitals and Bruins also win

Eastern Conference playoff race

y-1. Washington – 107 pts (1 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Boston – 101 pts (2 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts (2 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (2 GR)
x-6. Montreal – 93 pts (2 GR)
7. Buffalo – 92 pts (2 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
9. Carolina – 89 pts (2 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Carolina 3, Detroit 0

Read the full recap here.

The Hurricanes pulled within two points of the eighth place New York Rangers, giving them a chance to make the playoffs. Carolina more or less needs to win their final two games – preferably both in regulation – while the Rangers need to drop a game in regulation. There are some other convoluted ways that Buffalo can make it, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach before filling your noggins with unnecessary hypothetical situations.

Washington 5, Florida 2

The Capitals didn’t make their own schedule, but in a way, you almost wonder if they kept these final two games in storage. After all, is there a better way to rest up for the playoffs (while improving your odds of getting the top seed) than bullying the crummy Panthers twice? Washington now holds a four point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the East, although Philly does have a game in hand.

That extra game left won’t mean anything if Washington manages a single point from their contest against Florida on Saturday … if the Flyers even push them that far.

As for the actual game itself, Semyon Varlamov kept the Panthers off the board in the first period despite an 18-6 shot discrepancy, allowing the Caps to cruise to victory. Varlamov finished with 31 saves while Alex Ovechkin had an empty-net goal and two assists in the win.

Boston 3, NY Islanders 2

This Bruins win makes things a little bit worse for the idle Flyers, as Boston now only trails Philadelphia by two points for the second seed in the East. Both teams have two games left and the Flyers have a shaky tiebreaker advantage (more wins, but the same amount of non-shootout wins), so it’s perfectly possible for the B’s take the No. 2 seed.

Is it likely? Maybe. The Bruins play two bottom feeders who have been intermittently dangerous (Ottawa and New Jersey) while the Flyers play against the Islanders and Sabres. Crazier things have happened … even during the 2010-11 season, actually.

Boston’s win was fueled by their less-frequent scorers, as Shawn Thornton, Dennis Seidenberg and Gregory Campbell provided the three goals. Tim Thomas did his best to cleanse that jarring New York Rangers defeat from his memory* by stopping 30 out of 32 shots for his 34th win of the season. Michael Grabner provided both Isles tallies, pushing his season total to 33.

* – Imagine if the Bruins earn the second seed and the Rangers make it to seventh place? One can only speculate as to how many times sports channels will replay New York’s five unanswered goals.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.