The Carolina Hurricanes had a home-and-home series with the division foe Capitals, as they played in DC on Tuesday night and Raleigh on Thursday night in an important set of games for both teams. For the Capitals, this was a chance to climb back into the mix of things in the Southeast division, for the Hurricanes, it was a chance to solidify their lead on the division and put some distance between themselves and teams below them. When the dust settled after the second game of the split, the two teams found themselves in exactly the same position they began the week, as both road teams earned victories.
In game one in Washington, it was all Hurricanes. The Canes dominated from the opening faceoff and shut the Capitals out by the score of 4-0, earning a little payback from a 3-0 shutout handed to them by Washington earlier in the season. Youngster Riley Nash scored his first career multi-goal game in the NHL, as he potted two second period goals to put the game virtually out of reach by the final period. Joe Corvo scored a first period goal which was assisted by former Capital Alex Semin, his team-leading 20th assist. Patrick Dwyer added an empty netter to secure the 4-0 win over the listless Capitals. Justin Peters was fantastic in net, as he stopped all 26 shots he faced in the contest. A frustrated Alex Ovechkin went without a shot on goal and was a -1 on the evening. ”You’re not going to fill Cam’s void. Obviously, he’s a top goalie in this league,” said Peters, ”The only way we can try and fill it is a group effort from everyone in this room, and that’s been our mindset the whole time.”
Game two started much like game one finished, as the Hurricanes jumped all over the Capitals at home early. Alex Semin scored a goal from the slot just 1:18 into the game and the Canes were off and running. Patrick Dwyer scored his sixth of the season just seven minutes later and the Canes held a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. With this game looking a lot like game one of the home and home, the Capitals showed some resiliency and fought back. Joey Crabb took a nice pass from Aaron Volpatti to cut the deficit to one, and Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal from the circle just a minute into the third period to tie the game. Then, with just over two minutes to play, Ovechkin got a break-away opportunity on goaltender Dan Ellis, made his move, and fanned on his shot, before poking the puck off the post and behind Ellis. Mike Ribeiro was there to clean up the garbage in front and scored on the rebound, and the Capitals won 3-2. This was the first time the Canes have lost in 12 games in which they led heading into the third period. Ellis made 22 saves in the losing effort. The Canes were disappointed to let this one slip away, especially after such a good start.
The Canes still hold a slim, 1-point lead in the division over Winnipeg, but points are coming at a premium. The two points lost to Washington in the second game are disappointing, but the dominating win on the road showed that this team may be in it for the long haul.
Forward Tuomo Ruutu, who underwent hip surgery prior to the start of the season, began practicing with the team this week. Ruutu would add a great physical presence to an already dangerous top 6 in Carolina, and could give the Canes some depth down the stretch.
With the shortened season quickly coming to an end, the Canes must decide if they want to pursue any trades at the trade deadline, or stick with what they have. Either way, winning the Southeast division continues to be the top priority of this team, which hasn’t made a playoff berth in the last three seasons.