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.

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.

Coming Tuesday: Dan Boyle, $4.5M healthy scratch

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

Few things say “Oops, bad signing” quite like putting a really expensive player in street clothes (without an injury being involved).

The Philadelphia Flyers set quite the high bar in that regard, but the New York Rangers can’t laugh too much. Not with Dan Boyle expected to be a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

The word from the Bergen Record is that Dylan McIlrath will draw into the Rangers lineup in Boyle’s space, although Kevin Klein will take over Boyle’s role on the power play.

Let’s face the facts. At 39, Boyle may still boast some zip on offense, but maybe not enough to justify an everyday role.

It’s not the first time the Rangers have decided to make the difficult, awkward season to phase a big name out as he approaches age 40.

Even if it’s just a momentary situation, one cannot help but wonder if Boyle’s career is screeching to halt much like Martin St. Louis’ did in 2014-15 (though the latter’s decline was more sudden).

On the bright side, it sounds like Boyle has a side job lined up with Faith No More.