RALEIGH, N.C. | Nicklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore had their most productive games in a long time, but this victory was marred by another ejection and another injury for Alex Ovechkin.
Backstrom had two goals and assisted on a third, and Theodore had 38 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the lowly Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Monday night at RBC Center. It was Washington’s third straight victory, and the Caps kept pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We found another way to win today, and we’re happy about it,” Backstrom said. “I think maybe when the best player goes out, it is a challenge for other guys.”
Ovechkin was ejected for the second time in three games, but that could be the least of the worries for the Caps. He collided with Carolina’s Tim Gleason and was given a five-minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct 12:05 into the first period. His right knee hit Gleason’s left and both writhed on the ice in pain.
Both went to their respective dressing rooms, but Gleason returned before the end of the period. Ovechkin was unable to put any weight on his right leg when he skated off while head trainer Greg Smith and Backstrom helped him off the ice.
“He’s stiff right now, but I don’t know how long he’s going to be out or if he will be at all,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
A team official said there would be no further update until Tuesday at the earliest. General manager George McPhee said an MRI or X-ray wouldn’t happen until after the team comes home and its medical staff examines the two-time MVP.
Ovechkin was tossed from the game against Buffalo at Verizon Center on Wednesday for a hit on Patrick Kaleta. He was assessed a major for boarding and a game misconduct on the play.
This isn’t the first time Ovechkin has been involved in a knee-on-knee hit. He knocked knees with Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar on a similar play during Game 4 of the teams’ second-round playoff series last postseason.
“It is the same thing like with Gonchar last year - he leans in his shoulder,” Boudreau said, later adding he didn’t think Ovechkin deserved to be ejected. “We looked it about 20 times, and his leg follows him. Alex is trying to hit him, and Gleason makes a pretty good move to the inside and as he’s moving, his leg comes out and hits him.”
The Hurricanes entered the night four points behind Toronto for 29th place in the 30-team NHL, but they got off to a fast start. Carolina had 12 of the first 13 shots on net, and Joe Corvo’s rebound tally 4:35 into the opening period gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
It could have been worse if not for Theodore, who was making his first start since Nov. 14 at New Jersey. He gave up five goals in that game and was yanked after yielding three on five shots in his previous appearance, but this was one of the best efforts Theodore has produced in a Washington uniform.
“Outstanding - he came and took this time off, and he’s worked really hard at his game,” Boudreau said. “I’m a little disappointed that second one went in [with 16 seconds left] because he deserved a one-goal game. The first seven minutes he kept us in it.”
Added Theodore: “Anytime you don’t play for so long, there is a little bit of rust and you want to get a couple of shots right away, and that’s exactly what happened. That was almost a good scenario, then after that I was just getting my game back, and obviously I am very happy with tonight’s result.”
Backstrom scored on his team’s second shot of the game - a one-timer on a beautiful pass from Ovechkin at 6:11 of the first. It was Backstrom’s first goal in 13 games.
Eric Fehr pushed the Caps in front late in the opening period. Moved to the top line after Ovechkin’s injury/ejection, Backstrom fed him with a perfect pass on a two-on-one for his seventh of the season.
Fehr had two goals Saturday night in Montreal and now has six goals and 10 points in his past 11 games since returning from a rib injury three weeks ago.
“[Backstrom] made the play to the middle, and I just did the easier part and just tapped it in,” Fehr said. “We had a whole bunch of guys stepping up tonight.”
Backstrom added his second of the night with the lone goal of the middle period. Carolina goaltender Michael Leighton slid way out of position to the right of his net, and Backstrom collected the puck after it was deflected before depositing a spin-o-rama backhanded shot into the empty net at 14:53.
Theodore made several highlight-caliber saves in this contest, including a sliding glove save on Jussi Jokinen in the second period and a glove stab on Eric Staal in the waning moments when the Hurricanes had a six-on-four situation.
“It is a long year and you’ve got to get both [goalies] going,” Theodore said. “I think [Semyon Varlamov] and I have done a good job of when one is not as sharp the other has been there to pick it up.”