With the season already all but lost, the Washington Capitals earned a satisfying measure of revenge Thursday night with a late 3-2 comeback win in Raleigh over the Carolina Hurricanes, who shut out the Caps in the team’s previous meeting two nights prior. Mike Ribeiro scored the eventual game-winner with just 2:44 left in the third period.
Alexander Ovechkin registered his 700th career point on a power play marker one minute and one second into the third frame that tied the game at two, and earned an assist on Ribeiro’s goal.
Joey Crabb also scored for the Capitals, and Michal Neuvirth made 36 saves in the win, in his first start since February 7. Alexander Semin and Patrick Dwyer scored for the Hurricanes, while Dan Ellis earned the loss, his sixth in six tries versus Washington.
The game-winning goal was a matter of luck, more than skill. Defenseman John Carlson fed Ovechkin with a beautiful stretch pass as the captain jumped off the bench for a line change. Ovechkin’s deke beat Carolina goalie Dan Ellis, but he partially whiffed on the shot, which hit the right post and slid behind Ellis. Ribeiro dashed in to stab the puck entirely across the line for a split-second before Jiri Tlusty swept it out of the crease. Referee Chris Rooney called it a goal on the ice, and video replay confirmed his judgment.
Early in the game, Semin staked his current team to an early lead just 74 seconds into the first period, his first goal against his former team in three tries. Carolina’s first line struck at the end of a strong cycle play. Caps center Marcus Johansson lost his stick in the slot, allowing Semin to slip free and bury Staal’s quick feed with a wicked wrister from the bottom of the right circle.
Carolina’s first line of Semin, Tlusty, and Eric Staal repeatedly generated scoring opportunities against Washington’s banged up defense. Semin whiffed on two wide open shots from the slot in the second period alone, and finished the game with seven shots on net and another five that missed or were blocked. His linemate Staal was second on the team with four shots, but also led his squad with two minor penalties, including one at the end of the second period that led to Ovechkin’s power play strike.
That goal came shortly after a composed zone entry by the Caps. Mike Ribeiro funneled the puck below the goal line, where Nicklas Backstrom attempted to center the puck to Ovechkin. Ellis, the Carolina netminder, deflected the pass but, unfortunately for him, onto the stick of Troy Brouwer, who quickly slid it over to Ovechkin for the easy one-timer.
Ovechkin’s goal was his seventh on the power play this season, putting him in a four-way tie for the fourth highest total in the NHL in that category.
Midway through the first period, Dwyer doubled the ‘Canes initial lead with a nifty tip all the way from the tops of the faceoff circles. His redirection of Tim Gleason’s slap pass bounced through a tangle of legs and past Neuvirth’s right pad, as the goalie attempted to readjust to the puck’s altered point of release.
After Carolina scored the first two goals of the game, Washington responded with the final three. It was crucial for the Caps to not just win, but win in regulation, thereby preventing the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes from picking up at least one point in the playoff race.
The Capitals played most of the game with only five defensemen. Rookie Tomas Kundratek, almost a veteran on Washington’s blue line at this point with 24 NHL career NHL games, left early in the first after suffering a leg injury when Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner fell on his right foot awkwardly. Kundratek only skated 3:14 in the game, while 27-year-old rookie Steve Olesky, in his sixth career NHL game, led Washington with 27:55 time on ice.
With the win, Washington now sits just five points behind the New York Rangers – whose Thursday night game was not completed as of press time – for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. With the shortened season’s conference-only schedule, making up that gap and staying above the four teams in between will be near impossible, but not as difficult as if the Caps had lost.
Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.