It wasn’t pretty, but the Capitals used a third-period rally to earn their seventh straight win, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 at Verizon Center Friday night.
Washington converted on two of its first three shots in the third period for the victory, which allowed the Capitals to boost their lead in the Southeast Division to four points over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who fell 2-1 at home to Ottawa. Washington also boosted its lead in the race for second in the Eastern Conference playoff race to three points, as Boston fell to the New York Islanders 4-2.
After a sluggish pace to the contest throughout the first 39 minutes, Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu put the Hurricanes up with a goal with just :35.1 left in the second period. Ruutu fired a wrister past 21-year-old Washington netminder Braden Holtby - the first goal Holtby has allowed in three appearances since being recalled from Hershey earlier this month.
Despite the deflating goal near the end of the second, Alexander Ovechkin shifted the momentum back just :47 into the third, taking a short drop pass from Marcus Johansson and firing a long wrist shot from the top of the circle past Carolina netminder Cam Ward for the equalizer.
“It was an important goal for us,” Ovechkin said afterwards. “It was kind of a good shot … I just try to shoot the puck and go change [lines].”
Less than seven minutes later, hard work at both ends of the ice by Matt Hendricks created the go-ahead goal for Washington. Hendricks blocked a shot at the Capitals’ blueline, and the puck deflected up the ice to a charging Jason Arnott for a breakaway. Although Ward made the initial pad save on Arnott’s chance, Hendricks was there to follow up and put the puck in the cage with 12:36 left to play.
“If there was going to be a rebound, I wanted to be the one to get it,” Hendricks said. “I just wanted to try to get it over his pad.”
“That’s what he does,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards. “He is going to get those dirty goals … he’s not going to get those end-to-end goals.”
With the lead, the focus then shifted to Holtby, who was under fire the rest of the frame.
Carolina appeared to tie the game with 2:37 left in regulation, but an apparent rebound goal by Carolina’s Jay Harrison was wiped out by a quick whistle, leaving Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice fuming.
But despite the late Hurricanes pressure, Holtby made 16 saves in the period to move his record on the season to 7-2-2. The young goaltender also has allowed just four goals in his last six appearances, giving up no more than one goal per game in that span.
“[Holtby’s] making it tough [to decide which of the three goaltenders to play,]” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards. “He’s obviously doing a good job.”
“You always want to be the guy that plays in the playoffs [in Washington,]” Holtby said. “I want to play every game like I’m going to be sent down [to Hershey] the next day.”
Despite the win, Boudreau wasn’t thrilled with his team’s performance, despite earning two important points.
“I didn’t think we were very sharp,” he said. “They had  shots on goal. I think they were carrying the play [and] they were beating us to the puck. We made the plays in the third period that we needed to win, and that was it.”
The Capitals close out their three-game homestand Sunday against Chicago, before embarking on a six-game road trip.