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.”