Braden Holtby overcame initial unease to finish with a regular season career high of 43 saves, Troy Brouwer scored two goals and Mike Green added a goal as Washington recovered in the final 50 minutes to capture a 3-1 win.
“I remember looking up at the scoreboard and the shots were outrageous and we had nothing,” said Green, who scored the go-ahead goal in the second period. “We just got back to our system. And we kind of strayed away from it there at the start, we started to buy into their sort of run and gun game, and that’s not how we play. Once we settled down, we played our game.”
It marked Washington’s sixth straight victory and its 10th in the past 12 games.
The win pushed the Capitals to 46 points as well, allowing them to maintain a two-point lead on the Winnipeg Jets, who captured their third straight win in a 7-2 triumph over Florida on Thursday night, for first place in the Southeast Division.
The importance of each game and pair of points down the stretch to preserving Washington’s place atop the division made it all the more important to shake the sluggish start.
For the opening 10 minutes, Washington resembled nothing like the confident team that had reeled off wins through clean execution and poised play in recent weeks as it chased the puck and Hurricanes.
Holtby, after the past two games off, looked skittish at the start as he misplayed the puck and lost sight of it multiple times.
“I don’t know if that had anything to do with not playing, but I felt a little out of control — a little erratic at times,” Holtby said. “It was nice to get through that little patch, and then I felt a lot better after that.”
Just more than five minutes in with Brouwer (high-sticking) and Jack Hillen (tripping) both in the penalty box for the Capitals along with Carolina’s Justin Faulk (delay of game), Jeff Skinner scored on a four-on-three power play to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
Carolina continued to storm the crease after taking the initial advantage, but for as ill at ease as Holtby appeared — at one point he did a full turn to find the puck — he withstood the assault.
To be fair, Holtby wasn’t getting much help from his teammates as he tried to overcome his early hiccups, as the team couldn’t minimize the Hurricanes’ chances and zone time. The Capitals knew they could — and needed to — do better.
“We were a little bit sour with ourselves as far as letting them have the opportunities and letting them get the momentum early in the game,” Brouwer said. “We just were not playing the type of game that we wanted to then. Guys are positive in this room right now and it’s easier to [bounce back] when you’re winning than it is when you’re losing.”
When former Capital Alexander Semin was whistled for tripping at 10 minutes 2 seconds it provided an alarm clock that shook Washington.
Alex Ovechkin recorded the Capitals’ first shot on goal three seconds into the power play and they went on to out-shoot Carolina 8-1 to close the period.
Washington entered the intermission down by one, but there was little reason to believe that a comeback wouldn’t materialize.
“That power play gave us a little life and we got some momentum,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It’s a matter of time. The game goes in waves. . . . It goes in flows, but we turned it around.”
The second period brought more deliberate play from Washington, which would erase the deficit and take its first lead of the game with a pair of goals 2:42 apart.
Brouwer scored on the power play on a one-timer from the right circle with 8:08 gone in the second to tie the game at 1 and snap his personal six-game scoring drought.
A little less than three minutes later, a lane in the offensive zone opened just as Green gained control of the puck. The Capitals’ top defenseman stepped around Skinner with ease and skated into the right circle where he fired a shot into the top left corner over the shoulder of a helpless Justin Peters (28 saves).
The Capitals as a whole had settled into the contest, Holtby included.
Carolina created a few shifts of sustained offensive pressure after Green’s goal, but Holtby wasn’t to be beaten again.
The 23-year-old from Saskatchewan was his usual composed self late in the second period as he turned away multiple shots including quality looks for Chad LaRose and Jordan Staal. As the Hurricanes pushed to tie the game late in regulation, Holtby remained unflappable.
Brouwer added an empty-net goal with 5.4 seconds left to ice the contest and ensure that even if things didn’t go as planned at the beginning the Capitals would come away with the desired finish.
“It wasn’t the start that we envisioned, that we wanted,” Matt Hendricks said. “But the end result was what we wanted, that’s for sure.”
Capitals notes: Brooks Laich missed a fourth consecutive game with a lower-body/groin injury. . . .
Joel Ward sat out a second straight game with a left knee contusion. . . .
Martin Erat was out for a third straight contest with a left leg injury.