Nothing lasts forever, and so it goes with Washington’s twin winning streaks. The Carolina Hurricanes came into Capital One Arena on Thursday night and did what none of the 10 previous visitors was able to do, namely defeat the Capitals. The Canes took a 3-1 victory over the Caps in the front end of a home-and-home set; the two teams will meet again in Raleigh on Friday night.
Carolina netminder Scott Darling stopped 27 of 28 shots on the night to earn his first win since Dec. 16 and his first career win over Washington. Darling entered Thursday’s game with a 1-5-1 record in his previous eight appearances, dating back to the beginning of December.
“I just felt comfortable tonight,” says Darling. “I haven’t been playing much, so I was real excited to get the start tonight. Things haven’t been going great for me the last couple of games, so I figured I should just relax and try to have some fun, and that’s what I did tonight.”
Thursday’s loss ends Washington’s season-long five-game winning streak, and it also halts the Caps’ 10-game winning streak on home ice, the longest streak of its kind in the NHL this season.
“It’s always disappointing when we lose at home,” says Caps center Lars Eller, who scored Washington’s only goal of the game, “but today we probably didn’t deserve much better. Like I said, it was not really our best game and our best effort. When you’re not playing your best, other teams might beat you, even at home here.”
Both sides had a few good scoring chances in the first, but both goaltenders were perfect in the game’s first stanza, too. The Caps had the only power play opportunity of the game’s first 20 minutes, but they weren’t able to accomplish anything offensively with that chance.
Carolina got the scoring started on the second Washington power play of the game, taking a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded strike from Carolina captain Jordan Staal. Staal read and picked off a pass from John Carlson that was intended for Alex Ovechkin, and then Staal outraced Ovechkin and beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to give the Canes the lead at 11:33 of the second period.
The Caps got that one back late in the middle frame. Eller beat former teammate Justin Williams on a draw in the Carolina zone, drawing the puck to Christian Djoos. Djoos fed T. J. Oshie, who in turn put it on a tee for Eller in the high slot. With Brett Connolly supplying the screen in front, Eller wound up and fired a one-timer that got through Darling, tying the game at 16:05 of the second. It marks the third straight game in which Eller has found the back of the net.
Carolina took a 2-1 lead while playing with an extra attacker on a delayed penalty call on Washington’s Tom Wilson. Holtby blockered aside a shot from Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk, and Brooks Orpik swatted at and made contact with the rebound. The puck then came to Carolina’s Victor Rask, and his shot from the left circle beat Holtby on the short side at 10:54.
The Caps believed that play should have been whistled dead with Orpik making contact, claiming that had the puck gone over the glass from Orpik’s whack, that Washington would have been assessed a delay of game minor. The argument was futile; the goal stood.
Less than two minutes after Rask restored Carolina’s lead, the Caps went on a power play of their own, but they managed just a single shot attempt during those two minutes, an Ovechkin shot that was blocked by Canes defenseman Jaccob Slavin.
Carolina iced the puck with just under two minutes remaining, giving the Caps a chance to pull Holtby for an extra attacker ahead of a draw in the offensive zone with 1:46 remaining. Carolina won that draw, but iced the puck a second time. The Canes also won the second draw in their own end, and nine seconds later Sebastian Aho netted an empty-netter to account for the 3-1 final and ensure the victory for his team.
“They’re still rolling,” says Canes coach Bill Peters of the Caps. “That’s still a real good record at home for them. I liked our effort. I thought we got contributions from throughout our lineup, and specialty teams were good. The power play only had the one kick at the can, but still we were in the zone and dangerous and got four shots. And Darls was real good for us in net; he played real well.”
Washington took a 5-4 overtime decision from the Canes in Raleigh last week, and the Caps’ last chance to earn points before their bye week comes on Friday night in Carolina’s capital city.
“We’re going to have to tighten up a few areas,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “I thought they were just a little more desperate in the battle, and on special teams they got the shorthanded goal for them. We weren’t good. We need more from everybody, I think.”