The Carolina Hurricanes had the Washington Capitals right where they wanted them, but faltered and suffered a 3-2 loss in front of a near-sellout crowd of 18,610 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday.
The Hurricanes had been skating along - winning six of their last seven games including a 4-0 shutout of the Capitals on Tuesday - and took an early two-goal lead during the first period.
Forward Alexander Semin opened the game’s scoring just over a minute into it, receiving a pass from Eric Staal in the right corner and snapping a one-timer over Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth’s right shoulder that put Carolina ahead 1-0.
The Hurricanes continued to pressure the Capitals throughout the early part of the period, keeping puck possession deep in the Washington zone and keeping Neuvirth and his defensemen busy.
Off a faceoff to his right, the netminder was screened by multiple bodies in front when Patrick Dwyer redirected a Tim Gleason point shot that found its way to the back of the net to extend the Hurricanes’ lead.
Letting them back in it
Ahead 2-0 by the end of the period, it seemed that everyone in the building was feeling pretty good about Carolina’s chances of winning the game, even with two periods remaining to play.
Why wouldn’t they, the Hurricanes were undefeated all season when leading after the first period of play.
However, even while being outshot 16-11 during the period, the Capitals gradually picked up momentum and earned chances to beat Carolina goaltender Dan Ellis, who managed to turn away some great scoring opportunities from the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Eric Fehr.
The added energy boost that Washington exhibited during the beginning of the second period should have raised a red flag for the Hurricanes, but didn’t.
A less-than-aggressive defensive play by Justin Faulk along the boards to Ellis’ right allowed Aaron Volpatti to slide a quick pass into the slot past two other Carolina sticks before Joey Crabb redirected the puck into the net to cut the Carolina lead down to one goal.
“We let them back in it,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said.
“Second period, we got away from it. Long shifts, turnovers , we stopped shootin’ the puck. These are things you gotta’ learn from. When you get the chance to bury a team, you gotta’ keep in the program – go for that third goal.”
Shut out for two periods
As Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters had done to the Capitals on Tuesday, Neuvirth, who hadn’t started a game since Feb. 7, blanked the Hurricanes for the remainder of the game while Ovechkin worked his magic in fueling the comeback for Washington.
Even while outshooting the Capitals 7-6 during the second period, it was evident that Washington was starting to pick up their pace, and the Hurricanes struggled to beat Neuvirth, even while having two power play opportunities to do so.
“We knew the desperation with them, where they are (in the standings) and all that – these two games,” Muller continued.
“We shot ourselves in the foot. We played into their hands. We tried to play run n’ gun rather than a structured game. We allowed them to get back in it in that second period, and then it was up for grabs in the third.”
Trailing 2-1 entering the final period of play, Washington started with a power play opportunity afforded to them after Hurricanes captain Eric Staal was called for high sticking at the end of the previous period.
With the man-advantage, it was Ovechkin who stood all alone in the faceoff circle to Ellis’ right and released a one-timer to tie the game in just 61 seconds.
Ovechkin’s shot into the open net came as the result of a pass from Troy Brouwer who swept the deflected puck in front towards his left and onto the Russian captain’s stick, sending Ellis diving across his crease too late as the puck had already bulged the twine a second earlier.
With the game tied 2-2, both teams traded opportunities on the power play and kept both netminders busy as they came up with impressive stops throughout the period.
The final goal
Energized by scoring the tying goal, Ovechkin had another prime opportunity to beat Ellis, and he did.
However, as the goaltender lunged forward to attack the puck, Ovechkin's backhand shot hit the right post and slid along the goal line as Ellis and his defenseman scrambled to cover the puck up.
Following up on the play, linemate Mike Ribeiro, the Capitals scoring leader, swept in and poked the eventual game-winner barely past the goal line with 2:16 remaining to play.
As Carolina maintained puck control deep in the Washington zone, they pulled Ellis for the extra attacker with 1:20 to go, and even had an additional skater on the power play for the final 15 seconds of the game, but still couldn’t beat Neuvirth to tie it as the final horn sounded.
“We didn’t get the job done,” Staal said.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of continuing the energy we started with, and it ended up costing us the game.”