Familiar Script – For the third game in succession, the Caps surrendered the game’s first goal in the first frame and trailed 1-0 after the first 20 minutes of play. And for the third game in succession, the Caps used a strong second period to push past their opponent and take a pair of much needed points.
The Carolina Hurricanes dominated the Caps for the first half of the first period, but Washington rebounded to topple the Canes by a 3-1 count. The win was Washington’s sixth in row, its longest winning run since it opened the 2011-12 campaign with seven straight triumphs. The loss was Carolina’s seventh setback in succession.
The Caps had a chance to get an early jump on the Canes when Carolina’s Justin Faulk took a delay of game call at 3:06 of the first period. But that extra-man opportunity was short-circuited almost immediately; Caps winger Troy Brouwer got his stick up on Canes defenseman Tim Gleason, putting the sides at 4-on-4 for the better part of two minutes.
Before either of those minors expired, Washington defenseman Jack Hillen went off for tripping Carolina’s Jamie McBain at the offensive blueline, giving the Canes a 4-on-3 power play for 15 seconds.
Carolina needed only 10 of those ticks to tally; Eric Staal won the offensive zone face-off, and Canes forward Jeff Skinner tapped in a rebound of a Staal shot from the right dot to put the visitors on top 1-0 at 5:01 of the first.
The Canes took advantage of the remainder of the 5-on-4 portion of that power play, asserting momentum and putting the Capitals on their collective heels. With Carolina owning a lopsided 14-0 advantage in shots on goal, Canes forward Alexander Semin jabbed a sword in his team’s hot air balloon by taking an unnecessary and unwise tripping call well over 100 feet from his team’s net.
Although the Caps didn’t score on the ensuing power play, Washington used the gift to get its legs moving and swing the momentum pendulum back in its own favor.
“That power play gave us a little life,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “and we got some momentum. It’s a matter of time, and I think the game goes in waves. We talk about that. You don’t always have your best legs to start a game; it comes and goes. But we turned it around.”
Even though the Caps turned the tide on the Canes in the second half of the first, it took a Johnny-on-the-spot play from Caps defenseman John Carlson to keep the deficit at one.
Carlson iced the puck in the final minute of the first frame. Carolina’s Jordan Staal won the ensuing offensive zone draw to Canes defenseman Jay Harrison, and Harrison’s shot trickled through the pads of Caps goalie Braden Holtby. The disc wobbled toward the goal line before Carlson swooped in and skated it out of harm’s way.
“Anybody could really have made that play,” downplays Carlson. “I don’t even know if it was going to go into the net, but it was certainly lying around there. It was big for us after the [first] period. We settled ourselves down, able to re-attack and able to get back on our program.”
When Mathieu Perreault drew a Jiri Tlusty tripping call early in the second, Washington’s vaunted power play took to the ice again to seek the equalizer. But again, the Caps shot themselves in the foot. This time, Mike Ribeiro took a hi-sticking minor just four seconds after Tlusty’s sentence started.
More extra-man largesse was coming the Caps’ way, though. Jordan Staal was busted for an offensive zone slashing call on Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy at 7:54 of the second, and once again the Washington power play corps took to the ice. Caps pivot Nicklas Backstrom won the draw, and 14 seconds later the puck was behind Carolina goaltender Justin Peters.
Fittingly, Brouwer and Ribeiro redeemed themselves in combining with Backstrom on the goal. Ribeiro fed Brouwer for the one-timer that evened the game at 1-1 near the midpoint of the middle frame.
Less than three minutes later, two-thirds of the Caps’ fourth line combined to manufacture the go-ahead goal. Wojtek Wolski got the puck to Jay Beagle down low on the left side, and Beagle shot a sharp pass to Mike Green at the right point. Green put on a burst, left a flailing Skinner in his wake and sniped a shot into the far left corner of the cage, with Alex Ovechkin lurking near the top of the paint.
“Anytime the fourth line can kick in and get chances,” says Beagle, “it’s obviously huge for the team. Every night we’ve got to just keep that in the back of our minds, to be focused on playing in their end and chipping in with goals. It’s a huge help for the team when the fourth line can get one.”
“The wagons played well tonight,” says Green of the fourth-liners. “Beagle made a great pass and made [Skinner] bite and I had time to walk around the guy. Not only that, the whole game they did exactly what they need to do as far as cycling the puck, getting shots on net and playing strong defense. They were outstanding.”
For the remainder of the contest, fans were treated to a gaudy display of goaltending from Holtby. He made stellar stop after stellar stop, robbing and frustrating most of the Canes’ top gunners at one juncture or another.
Brouwer iced the game for the Caps with an empty-netter in the waning seconds of the third.
“He was good,” says Skinner of Holtby. “We got a lot of shots on him, and he made some big saves at some big times for them. We just couldn’t get one past him. We had a lot of quality chances, we just couldn’t get one.”
Eric Staal had nine shots on net in 24:57 of work. Semin had eight shots and 25:03 in ice time. Tlusty had four shots on net and was punched in for 22:24 on the night. Jordan Staal was on the clock for 23:10 and he put four shots on Holtby. That’s 25 shots from Carolina’s top four forwards, and none of them found purchase behind the Caps’ goaltender.
By night’s end, Holtby had a career-high 43 saves and his 18th victory of the season.
“He was outstanding throughout the whole game,” says Green of Holtby. “Even in the last five to 10 minutes he made some saves that should have been goals.”
Washington’s win kept it two points ahead of Winnipeg in the chase for the Southeast Division crown. The Caps hold a game in hand on the Jets.
Strong Seconds – For the fourth time in as many games, the Caps put a crooked number on the scoreboard in the second period on Thursday. Washington has scored multiple middle-frame goals in five of its last six and in eight of its last 14 games.
The Capitals have outscored their foes by a combined 14-2 in the second period of their last half-dozen games, and they’ve owned a 24-7 second-period scoreboard advantage over their last 14 games.
More than half (24 of 46) of Washington’s second-period goals in the 41 games it has played this season have come in the team’s last 14 games.
Leaderboard – With 37 assists on the season, Backstrom is four shy of the league-leading pace set by Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis.
Backstrom is now tied for seventh in the league’s scoring race (Ovechkin is sixth), 13 points behind front-running Crosby.
Holtby’s 18 wins are tied for sixth in the league and just two behind the league lead, currently shared by four different netminders.
From Rusted to Rested – Holtby served as a spectator for the Caps’ two previous games, watching Michal Neuvirth defeat the Lightning and the Canadiens, respectively.
Back between the pipes for the first time since Saturday, Holtby showed some early signs of rust in Thursday’s game against Carolina before settling in to stymie and frustrate the Hurricanes over the game’s final 55 minutes.
“I felt a little out of control, a little erratic at times and got bailed out by the guys a few times,” says Holtby of the early minutes of Thursday’s contest. “It was nice to get through that little patch, and then I felt a lot better after that.”
Thursday’s game marked the fifth time this season that Holtby has had a break of a game or more between starts. In the five starts that immediately follow those breaks, Holtby is now 4-1 with a shutout, a 1.99 GAA and a .940 save pct.
Holtby has started 25 of Washington’s last 30 games. He is 17-7-1 with four shutouts, a 2.26 GAA and a .929 save pct. during that span.
Green Means Go – Green’s goal was his ninth of the season, just two off the league-leading pace of Montreal’s P.K. Subban (11). Eight of Green’s goals have come at even-strength, the most even-strength strikes of any NHL rearguard this season.
Green has missed 13 games this season; he has done his offensive damage in just 28 games this season. In the two previous seasons combined, Green totaled 11 goals in 81 games, with only three of those tallies coming at even-strength.
Green supplied the game-winning goal for the Capitals in Thursday night’s win over Carolina, the first regular season game-winner he has notched since Oct. 8, 2011 in the 2011-12 season opening contest against the Hurricanes at Verizon Center. That tally came in overtime and started Washington’s season-opening seven-game winning streak.
Keep It Even – Washington has allowed a total of three even-strength goals in its last three games. During the life of their current six-game winning streak, the Capitals have allowed just seven even-strength goals.
Oh My Sweet Carolina – The Caps finished up the season series with four wins in their five games against the Hurricanes. Three of those four victories came in the last month, and the first of those triumphs (on March 14 in Raleigh) propelled the Caps on their current 12-3-1 hot spell.
Downgraded – Thursday’s game marked just the second time in Carolina’s last dozen games that the Canes limited their foes to fewer than four goals in a game. Unfortunately for Carolina, it was also the ninth time in the last 14 games that the Canes themselves were limited to one or no goals in a contest.
Carolina is now 1-13-1 in its last 15 games, and it has been outscored by a combined 59-24 during that extended rough patch. The Hurricanes have managed a not-so-grand total of 16 even-strength goals in their last 15 games.
By The Numbers – Green paced the Caps with 24:35 in ice time … Erskine clocked in for 22:47, the second straight game in which he skated upwards of 22 minutes … Ovechkin teed up 15 shots: six on net, four that were blocked and five that missed … Brouwer led the Caps with five hits … Backstrom won 13 of 21 draws (62%) on the night … For the second straight game, Caps forward Aaron Volpatti recorded a single-game career high in ice time. He skated 14:45 in Thursday’s game against Carolina.