Coach Bruce Boudreau said he wasn't too concerned with trying to manage the Capitals' minutes tonight in Carolina despite it being the fourth game in six days and Tuesday's tough practice in Raleigh.
"I've always said, or thought, that tired is a state of mind," Boudreau said. "The timing [for the long practice] wasn't where I would have liked it. You would have liked for it to be on a day off when they don't play for three or four days then you take the day off away from them, but it is what it is. It happened that day, and the next day is when you have to prove a point."
A better start may be key for the Capitals tonight against the Hurricanes. Both of the 5-0 shutout losses on the road that Washington suffered stemmed from sluggish first periods that allowed Atlanta and New Jersey to hold three-goal leads after 20 minutes.
"We have to come out hard and try to get a lead," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We have to be focused right away."
Carolina lost its past two games by way of shootouts -- 5-4 to Pittsburgh and 2-1 to Nashville -- but the Hurricanes didn't necessarily play poorly in either outing. The past several meetings between these two Southeast Division rivals haven't lacked for intensity or entertainment.
The Capitals won 3-0 on Oct. 27 in one of their most complete showings so far this season. Asked what the key was to that game, Boudreau said finding a way to contain Carolina captain Eric Staal, who will play his 500th career game tonight. (Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice will be behind the bench for his 1,000th NHL game when the clubs meet again Sunday at Verizon Center.)
"When he plays against us, he's had feast or famine," Boudreau said of Staal. "When he's the dominant player on the ice they usually have success. I think that's probably the same when he's the dominant force in any game, it runs Carolina. We were very mindful of what he was and where he was on the ice at all times [in the previous game]."
The Hurricanes, who have scored 23 first-period goals this season, know how much of a help it can be to get off to a hot start against the Capitals.
"I don't know if it's crucial but it's nice, especially against a team like [Washington] where once they get one they get two," Staal said. "If you can get on them early and score a couple it kind of discourages their offensive weapons and you want to do that. It doesn't always happen that way but it'd be nice to get off to a good start tonight."