- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2022

WASHINGTON — The Carolina Hurricanes gave the Washington Capitals something to think about if the division rivals meet in the playoffs.

Martin Necas scored twice, Sebastian Aho added his 29th goal and the Hurricanes routed the Capitals 6-1 on Monday night in a potential first-round preview that got heated. Carolina’s first victory in four meetings this season came with a cost after center Jesperi Kotkaniemi was injured on a hit with 1.8 seconds left.

Before Kotkaniemi limped off from a penalized hit by Lars Eller, the highlight of the night was a heavyweight fight between Brendan Smith and Tom Wilson after tensions simmered for half the game.



Wilson leveled Vincent Trocheck with a shoulder-to-chest hit at center ice in the second period, and he wanted to fight Smith early in the third before officials intervened. Wilson and Smith finally dropped the gloves midway through the third, with each landing multiple punches in a bout that fired up a crowd that had been dormant much of the game.

If the fireworks were a sign of things to come, a Hurricanes-Capitals playoff series would be must-see entertainment. This result moved that one step closer to reality.

Beating Washington allowed Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina to keep pace with Florida atop the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes moved one point ahead of the Panthers in the back-and-forth race for the top seed, which would likely mean a series against the Capitals instead of Boston, Toronto or two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.

After losing to the Capitals in a shootout at home 10 days ago and less than a month since getting blown out of this building, the Hurricanes made plenty of statements to show they wouldn’t be at a disadvantage if the teams face off in early May.

That began well before puck drop with coach Rod Brind’Amour starting No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen over backup Antti Raanta despite a visit to the Lightning looming Tuesday in the second half of a back-to-back. Andersen stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced, with most of the pressure coming in the first half of the second period when the Capitals tilted the ice toward him.

Much of the rest of the game was all Carolina, perhaps a product of the opposite scheduling for Washington: no game until Sunday and the next two days completely off. The Capitals had a burst of energy after the first intermission that culminated in Wilson’s goal and cut their deficit to one, but the quick-strike Hurricanes answered less than two minutes later and left no doubt about the result.

Veteran forward Derek Stepan and defensemen Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei also scored for the Hurricanes, who won for the second time in three games and extended their point streak to four. Washington‘s Vitek Vanecek, who was pulled to start the third after allowing five goals on 23 shots, gave up some bad rebounds but was hardly to blame for his teammates’ messy play in the defensive zone and carelessness with the puck.

Before Wilson’s hit and the fight, this showdown did not meet the usual level of intensity, which has been sky high since the teams met in the playoffs in 2019. Brind’Amour was keenly aware he and the Hurricanes could be back for a rematch soon, so plenty of thought went into this game.

“Both teams know what we’re both trying to do,” Brind’Amour said. “My question is, do you want to show something maybe different now or try something that might be something you need to do later, or do you hold back?”

Missing only injured defenseman Ethan Bear and forward Jordan Martinook, Carolina held back very little in a showdown between two mostly healthy opponents. Washington was short only Nic Dowd, who has missed five consecutive games with an upper-body injury.

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Raanta is expected to start in goal in the road-trip finale Tuesday night at Tampa Bay.

Capitals: Host the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night after their extended break.

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