Washington’s 50 points ties it with the Florida Panthers, and it holds a tiebreaker by virtue of having more regulation wins (24) in the same number of games (43). The last time the Capitals were in first place in the Southeast was Nov. 18.
“We didn’t have our best game today,” said Vokoun, who recorded a season high in saves in his ninth straight start, which tied his longest stretch this year. “I feel like they were a little more hungrier, but saying that, we play good enough and we battle hard we get the two points. That’s the most important part.”
For roughly 30 minutes, the Capitals skated sleepily through the game and it was Carolina (16-24-7), which defeated the Boston Bruins the night before in Raleigh, that looked like the well-rested team. The Hurricanes peppered Vokoun early and although the first period ended scoreless they held a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal.
Early in the second it appeared as though the stalemate had been broken. Brooks Laich drove toward the crease and as he collided with Cam Ward, his shot slid over the goal line at 3 minutes 34 seconds for what looked to be a 1-0 Capitals lead. The tally was waved off by the officials, however, because of incidental contact by Laich when he crashed into Ward in the goal mouth.
Referee Kyle Rehman initially called it a goal, but the players were told he was overruled by the other three officials on the ice.
“If that’s the case, I don’t know why there was a review of the goal,” Laich said. “There’s good breaks and bad breaks, you live life and move on.”
The referees declined to comment about the call.
While the Capitals as a whole continued to trudge through the contest, there were a few individual exceptions, notably Vokoun and Alex Ovechkin. The star left wing was making his presence known with heavy checks — he finished the game with a team-high five hits, including a pair of board-rattling hits on Carolina winger Patrick Dwyer near the 13-minute mark that seemed to energize the rest of the group. Washington would get on the scoreboard shortly thereafter.
On a rush created by a Carolina turnover, Alexander Semin snapped a wicked shot high into the right corner above the glove of Ward (22 saves) to grant the Capitals a 1-0 lead, 16:57 into the second.
The goal was a long time coming for Semin, who had hit the post three times in his past three periods of play — once against Carolina and twice in the third period Friday night against Tampa Bay — and entered Sunday on a four-game goal-scoring drought.
With 16.3 seconds remaining in the period, however, Carolina’s Jussi Jokinen knotted the score at 1 with Jay Beagle in the box for elbowing.
The start of the third brought the biggest push from the Capitals, and it didn’t take long for them to regain the lead. Orlov helped lead the rush up ice and as a shot by Jason Chimera bounced off Ward, the rookie defenseman swatted it between the left post and the goaltender for a 2-1 edge just 1:12 into the period.
Washington clung to the cushion provided by Orlov’s goal the rest of the way, despite several close calls and relying on Vokoun for 18 saves in the final period.
After the game, Orlov, 20, beamed over his milestone, which he waited for until his 25th game.
“I only have positive emotions,” Orlov said through an interpreter. “Of course I was a little bit lucky on that goal, but I’m happy it went in. I’m also happy that this was a game-winning goal because we as a team, we need to get the points, especially in the tight and difficult games like this.”
Capitals notes: Neither Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) nor Mike Green (groin) skated Sunday, making this the ninth and eighth day, respectively, since they were last on the ice.