Updated: Capitals beat Hurricanes, creep closer to 1st place

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RALEIGH, N.C. | Alex Ovechkin scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom had four assists as the Washington Capitals crept closer to first place in the Southeast Division with a 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at PNC Arena.

“It’s obviously huge for those guys to just play the way that they did,” center Jay Beagle said of Ovechkin, Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green. “We need them playing like that from here on out in every game. It’s obviously fun to watch. It’s something.”

Ovechkin and Green each scored twice, and Joel Ward had his first goal since Feb. 27 as the Caps moved to within two points of the Southeast-leading Winnipeg Jets, who lost to the New York Islanders. Washington has two games in hand and hosts the Jets April 23.

“We knew where we were, where we stand and what games are most important here,” Green said. “Tonight was the biggest one for us yet so we need to come out and play strong like we did, get the two points because if we didn’t we would set ourselves way back.”

The Caps remained three points back of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference after the Islanders’ victory. New York comes to Verizon Center on Thursday night.

Ovechkin scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season, becoming the only player to score 20 every year since the lockout.

“It means I’m back on track,” Ovechkin said. “Every game I have pretty good chances. My linemates do great job. And when you score goals, you have that kind of confidence when you have puck on your stick, you can see it and you can feel the game. Shots [go] in and it’s always nice.”

Ovechkin has 10 goals and five assists during this nine-game point streak.

“Ovi’s been in beast mode the last little bit, scoring big goals for us,” right wing Joel Ward said.

Backstrom recorded four assists for the seventh time in his NHL career. The last one came Nov. 11, 2010.

“He’s probably one of the best passers in the world and in the league,” said forward Marcus Johansson, who assisted on Ward’s short-handed goal. “He puts the puck where you need to have it, and he does it consistently. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often, actually. He’s a great passer and it’s fun to see when he has these nights.”

Green scored two goals for the first time since Oct. 22, 2011.

All this came on a night Jiri Tlusty scored a hat trick in a losing effort for the Hurricanes. Carolina fell victim to bad goaltending, as starter Dan Ellis gave up three goals on seven shots, and turnovers, which the Caps pounced on.

Ovechkin knew after his first goal of the night that Ellis was beatable.

“After that shot I tell right away the boys, ‘We have to make the shots on this goalie. He don’t play confident,’ ” the captain said. “It was good shots, but right away if we’re gonna shot, and more shots on net and traffic and it goes in.”

Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen left the game in the second period after a gruesome right leg injury suffered while getting to the puck for an icing touch-up. Pitkanen’s injury is likely to renew more talk about hybrid icing.

“It’s a real tough thing, it really is,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “Obviously you don’t want a guy ever to be hurt. But those are important plays. … That’s why it’s such a tough decision.”

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