Not even Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau could have predicted the Canadiens' first division title in 16 years at the start of the season.
Carey Price made 32 saves for his third career shutout and Montreal beat the Ottawa Senators 3-0 Tuesday night to win the Northeast Division.
The Canadiens earned their first division title since the 1991-92 season, and the win gave them 100 points for the first time since they had 103 in their Stanley Cup championship season the following year.
"There was a lot of questions that were unanswered at the start of September. I knew I had a good team, but not that good," Carbonneau said. "We achieved a lot ... 100 points, first in our division. I don't think it's something we thought about in September. Now, with two games to go, first in our conference is still there."
Just as surprising has been the Washington Capitals' success since they fired coach Glen Hanlon in late November and replaced him with Bruce Boudreau.
Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 63rd goal and got all sorts of help in Washington's 4-1 victory over Carolina that pulled the Capitals to a tie with the Hurricanes atop the Southeast Division.
"You could tell what was at stake. If this is what it's like in the playoffs in the NHL, no wonder it's an exciting game," said Boudreau, previously a career minor league coach. "The NHL knew what they were doing when they put the schedule together. If they wanted tight races, they got it."
Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and Matt Cooke scored earlier for Washington, Sergei Fedorov and Mike Green contributed two assists apiece, and Cristobal Huet made 21 saves.
In the other NHL games Tuesday night, it was: Florida 3, Atlanta 2; New Jersey 2, the New York Islanders 1 in overtime; Nashville 4, St. Louis 3 in overtime; Buffalo 4, Toronto 3 in a shootout; Calgary 3, Edmonton 2; Colorado 4, Vancouver 2; and San Jose 5, Los Angeles 2.
The Canadiens pulled into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the Eastern Conference. However, Pittsburgh has the tiebreaker by virtue of its 45 wins - one more than Montreal - with two games remaining for both. The Canadiens can finish no lower than second in the conference.
Ottawa was two men down 7:50 in when Chris Phillips was sent off for cross-checking Sergei Kostitsyn in the right corner just 11 seconds after the Senators were called for too many men. Alex Kovalev opened the scoring during the ensuing 5-on-3 advantage, lifting a backhand over Martin Gerber at 9:24 for his team-leading 35th - the most goals by a Canadiens player in 12 years.
Mathieu Dandenault and Andrei Kostitsyn also scored for the visiting Canadiens.
Washington was ranked 30th of 30 NHL teams at the time of the coaching change, about a quarter of the way through the season. And the Capitals still stood only 14th of 15 Eastern Conference clubs at the season's halfway point. However, with their first five-game winning streak since March 2001, and nine wins in 10 games, the Capitals are one point out of eighth place in the East.
"All the guys played well today," Ovechkin said. "We're playing for something right now."
Zach Parise deflected in Johnny Oduya's shot 29 seconds into overtime and visiting New Jersey clinched a playoff berth. The Devils strengthened their hold on fourth place in the East and stayed alive in the race for the Atlantic Division title.
Oduya also had the primary assist on Patrik Elias' second-period goal that got New Jersey even at 1. Martin Brodeur stopped 21 shots for his 42nd victory this season, allowing only a goal to Josef Vasicek in the first period.
Rich Peverley scored 1:43 into overtime to complete visiting Nashville's comeback from a three-goal deficit.
The Predators also got goals from Brandon Bochenski, Jordin Tootoo, Vernon Fiddler to jump ahead of Vancouver into the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Andy McDonald, David Perron and Jamal Mayers scored for the Blues, who led 3-0 just 7 minutes into the game.
Maxim Afinogenov scored the winning goal in the shootout and visiting Buffalo preserved its slim playoff hopes.
Derek Roy, Steve Bernier and Thomas Vanek scored in regulation for Buffalo. Darcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen had the Maple Leafs' goals.
Jay Bouwmeester and David Booth scored 17 seconds apart early in the third period and Florida held on to end a three-game losing streak.
Mark Recchi scored his 14th goal with 3:12 left for host Atlanta. Thrashers rookie winger Jordan LaVallee scored his first NHL goal in his second game, tying it at 1 at 13:09 of the second period.
Olli Jokinen's power-play goal gave Florida a 1-0 lead in the first period.
Owen Nolan scored the winning goal with 3:44 left, helping Calgary eliminate host Edmonton from the playoff race.
Adrian Aucoin and Alex Tanguay also scored for Calgary, which snapped a two-game skid and moved into sixth place in the West.
Curtis Glencross scored twice for Edmonton.
Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski scored 35 seconds apart in the second period and the visiting Avs clinched a playoff spot.
After falling behind 2-0 early in the second, John-Michael Liles started the rally with a power-play goal midway through the period, and Hejduk and Wolski completed it 5 minutes later.
Evgeni Nabokov made 16 saves in his NHL-best 46th victory, and San Jose closed out its home schedule with its 18th win in 20 games.
Milan Michalek scored the go-ahead goal in the second period for the Pacific Division champions, who have earned a point in every game since Feb. 20. Mike Grier, captain Patrick Marleau, Curtis Brown and Brian Campbell also scored as the Sharks earned their 108th point, surpassing last season's franchise record of 107 with two games to play.