The Washington Capitals know that all they need to do is take care of their own business the rest of the way to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Thursday night, against a Carolina Hurricanes team that has nothing to play for, the Caps withstood a clunky start to put another two points to their total, beating the Canes 3-1 to extend their late-season win streak to six games.
Troy Brouwer had two goals, including the empty netter with five seconds left to put the final nail in the coffin. Mike Green scored his ninth of the season, and Braden Holtby was excellent yet again, registering 43 saves in the win.
The first period was a bit of a scramble. The Caps were granted an early power play on a delay of game call just 3:06 into the contest. The advantage lasted all of eight seconds though, as Troy Brouwer erased the power play with a high sticking infraction of his own. Things got worse as Jack Hillen was called for tripping while the teams skated four on four. It only took Carolina only 10 seconds to capitalize on the four-on-three, with Jeff Skinner beating Caps goalie Braden Holtby for the first goal of the game.
In fact, it took the first ten minutes of the game for the Caps to wake up for this one. They were outshot at one point 14-0. But a tripping call against Alexander Semin gave the Caps another power play in the middle of the frame. They did not score, but the advantage was enough for the Capitals to get their legs under them. The play the rest of the period was much more balanced, and the shot differential after 20 minutes was 15-8.
The hard work late in the first paid dividends in the second. The Caps were having the better of the play already, and were given their second man-advantage of the frame at 7:54 when Jordan Stall went off for slashing. The Caps finally took advantage of the situation, as Mike Ribeiro found Tory Brouwer in the low slot for a one-timer that eluded Canes goalie Justin Peters 28 saves) blocker side to knot the game at one.
It was Brouwer’s first goal in six games.
After a quick and uneventful fight between Matt Hendricks and Nicholas Blanchard, the Caps went back to work. After an extensive offensive zone possession from several lines, Jay Beagle found Mike Green floating into the offensive zone. Green took the pass near the blue line, eluded a soft attempt of a check from Jeff Skinner and walked in on Peters. With Alex Ovechkin distracting Peters at the top of the crease, Green rifled a wicked wrist shot over Peters’ blocker to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
The Capitals mostly tried to play keep-away in the third period, and they managed the task primarily due to some excellent work by Holtby. After the two-game rest given to him by head coach Adam Oates, Holtby shook off any rust early and was stellar down the stretch, including a blocker save with about 1:30 left that could have forced the issue at the end of the game.
The Caps have a couple of days off to rest — and scoreboard watch — until they face Tampa Bay Saturday night. But with task at hand, they continue to excel as the regular season very quickly now is dwindling.