Coming off a 3-2 loss on the road to the St. Louis Blues that snapped a four-game win streak, the Carolina Hurricanes played host to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night in what was the first meeting between the teams of the season due to a strange scheduling quirk.
Carolina entered play sitting at sixth in the Metropolitan division, eight points behind the first-place Capitals with two games in hand.
The Hurricanes didn’t take long to get the ball rolling in their attempt to start another winning streak, as a misplay by Capitals defenseman John Carlson gifted Victor Rask with a chance all alone in front of goaltender Braden Holtby. Rask made no mistake, beating Holtby to the blocker side for his 9th goal of the year.
The lead didn’t hold for long though, as some subpar rush defending from Haydn Fleury and Justin Faulk allowed Chandler Stephen’s cross-crease pass to reach Alex Chiasson, who finished the chance against a sprawling Cam Ward.
Carolina’s defensive struggles would continue as this time the pairing of Noah Hanifin and Trevor van Riemsdyk got their signals crossed, and Washington winger Devante Smith-Pelly had adequate space to fire a wrister that squeaked through Ward.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Jeff Skinner said of Washington’s offensive bursts. “You play a good team like that... even if you have the majority of the play and you give them a good chance, they’re gonna capitalize and make you pay. They’ve got some guys that can do that.”
The Canes would get a golden opportunity to find an equalizer when Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, long reviled in Raleigh, launched Derek Ryan into the boards on the fringes of the Capitals zone.
“Well obviously, it’s a dangerous play right,” head coach Bill Peters asked about the hit when asked about it. “It’s a fast game, a hard game. He plays on the edge, and yeah, that’s what happened there.”
The ensuing power play was one of the most dangerous man advantages the Hurricanes have had in quite some time, with the top unit of Faulk, Elias Lindholm, Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen producing several high quality chances.
None of those chances were of enough quality to dent Holtby though, and the end of the first period nearly coincided with the end of the power play. Shots on goal after the first were 13-7 in favor of the Hurricanes.
“I thought it started a little slow,” Justin Williams said following the contest. “I thought the building was quiet. I thought the bench was quiet. I thought it took a little to get into it... but I don’t think the game really started until the second to be honest.”
The Hurricanes got off to a strong start in the second period, but fate seemed to be working against them. First, Aho found Staal wide open in front. Staal’s shot beat Holtby, but not the goal post. Then it was Brock McGinn who found himself with the puck unencumbered between the dots, only to see his shot find the pipe.
After surviving those two chances, Washington defender Dmitry Orlov made a play that was part-luck and part-brilliance as he played the puck to himself behind the defense and off the end wall. He got behind Slavin and Pesce, and beat Ward easily to the post to stretch the Capital lead to two.
The resilient Hurricanes would get one back though, as Rask sent a laser past Holtby from the point on the power play to cut the lead in half. The assists on the goal went to Skinner and former Capital Justin Williams.
The Hurricanes pressed to tie the game before the second ended, but they weren’t able to accomplish that. The second period ended shots favoring Carolina 21-14.
Just 1:06 into the third period, Evgeny Kuznetsov was whistled for slashing, and the Hurricanes went to work looking for their second consecutive power play goal to get this one leveled up.
Rask had a decent bid for a hat trick from the circle that was turned aside by Holtby, but there was pretty much nothing doing on this power play overall.
Once it ended, the Canes really got buzzing. Lindholm eventually tied the game with a shot from the slot, but that was preceded by several quality chances. Lindholm’s goal was his 11th of the season, and the product of a fantastic shift from him, Ryan, and Skinner.
Carolina wasn’t done yet. Aho applied serious pressure to a falling Capitals defender in the corner. The puck became available, and a bevy of humanity in front of Holtby involving the TSA line resulted in Orpik propelling the puck into his own net to give Carolina a 4-3 lead.
“I liked it,” Peters said of his team’s comeback in the third. “I liked the fact that there’s nights where you’re down and other teams... close it off on you and you’ve got nothing, it’s locked down. I didn’t feel it was locked down in the third.”
This see-saw battle pressed on when Alex Ovechkin tied the game with what was his first shot of the game. The previously-quiet sniper moved into a tie for the league lead in goals with that one, his 25th on the campaign.
In the waning moments of the third, the Capitals took an ill-advised penalty, when Tom Wilson tripped a streaking Aho in the neutral zone. With only 1:55 remaining in the period, Carolina was set to either take the lead or finish regulation with the man advantage.
The Hurricanes generated a couple good looks, but Holtby was equal to the challenge, and the latter option was the way this game went. After such a thrilling 60 minutes, it felt only fitting that this one got the overtime treatment.
“It can be better,” Williams said of his team’s power play. “It can win us games sometimes, and it could have won one again for us tonight. It didn’t happen, but we’re gonna keep working on it to make it an asset for us.”
In the extra frame, the Capitals easily killed the remaining five seconds on Wilson’s penalty, setting up a temporary 4-on-4 situation.
Following the reversion to the typical 3-on-3 overtime scenario, the Capitals’ best players stepped up, as Ovechkin fired one past Ward for his second of the night to win the game 5-4.
With the point, the Hurricanes moved past the New York Islanders, who were drubbed 5-1 by the Boston Bruins, for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hurricanes return to action on Thursday night when they travel to Pittsburgh for their second meeting of the season with the Penguins.
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