Backstrom, Laich help Caps snap losing skid

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RALEIGH, N.C. | As Alex Ovechkin finished talking to reporters in Washington’s dressing room, he looked over at teammate Nicklas Backstrom.

“You’re the superstar,” Ovechkin told him.

There were a few Capitals players who also deserved such high praise — and that’s one reason why their pesky losing streak is over.

Brooks Laich scored the winning goal with 7:58 left, and Washington snapped a three-game slide with a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.

Backstrom had two goals, Ovechkin finished with three assists, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots and made a series of big saves late for the Southeast Division-leading Capitals. They blew a 2-0 lead in the third period but regrouped to avoid their first four-game skid in more than a year.

“We bent a little, but we didn’t break,” Laich said. “It’s a good sign when they tied it up that we still came back and pushed back and were able to score. Once we did, we didn’t give them any chances to tie it up. … Get the winning attitude back and get over this little slide that we had and go home feeling good.”

Laich’s winner came 5 seconds into a slashing penalty on rookie Jeff Skinner. After the faceoff, the puck made its way to Ovechkin, who uncorked what appeared to be a hard wrist shot that Laich tipped past Justin Peters for his sixth goal. Laich said Ovechkin actually was passing the puck to him.

“It was a broken play where the goalie tried to clear it,” Laich said. “Now their defenders don’t know where to go. I kind of slipped in behind, and (Ovechkin) found the seam and hit me with a nice pass. Nice little break. I’ll take it and run.”

Sergei Samsonov and Eric Staal scored 4:01 apart in the third period to pull the Hurricanes even at 2.

“I think our compete is pretty darned good,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “We’re still learning not to do the things that slow us down — turning pucks over, not putting them at the net — but at the very least, they showed signs that they can change gears if they have to. It doesn’t have to be. If the first 10 minutes are not going your way, that doesn’t mean the night’s over. They can build some confidence and know that they can come back in games.”

Ovechkin, who skated at right wing instead of his customary spot on the left side of the Capitals’ top line, went without a goal for the fifth straight game, his longest drought of the season. He hasn’t scored against Carolina in eight consecutive games — his worst stretch against any team. But he certainly generated plenty of offense for Washington, assisting on both of Backstrom’s goals before setting up Laich’s winner.

Varlamov made his first appearance since Oct. 21. He had played in only two other games this season because of a groin injury, but was solid and strengthened a defense that had allowed five goals in each of its previous three games.

“It was so important” for Varlamov to make some big saves, Backstrom said. “It’s good for his confidence, especially when he has been down (in the AHL). … It’s good for him to be back and do those kind of saves and help us to win.”

That slide included road losses to Atlanta and New Jersey by 5-0 scores. In between was a 5-4 shootout loss at home to Philadelphia. The Capitals avoided losing four in a row for the first time since October 2009.

Varlamov took a shutout bid into the third period before Samsonov beat him with 15:56 left to pull the Hurricanes to 2-1. Staal then tied it with 11:55 left when he muscled in a rebound on the power play for his 10th goal.

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