RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a scene that had unfolded so many times before in recent years for the Washington Capitals. A two-on-one with Nicklas Backstrom on one side, Alex Ovechkin on the other and an opposing defenseman in the middle with an unenviable task.
Backstrom put the puck on Ovechkin’s tape with a saucer pass, and with a flick of his wrists the star winger beat Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters on his glove side. The goal gave the Capitals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 5-3 win at PNC Arena on Tuesday night.
As the puck came to rest in the back of the net, Ovechkin added an exclamation point seldom seen this season: a jubilant leap into the end boards that sent the glass rattling under the weight of his enthusiasm.
The Capitals’ brightest stars, Ovechkin, Backstrom and Mike Green — the remaining “Young Guns” — looked like their most potent offensive selves, totaling nine points to help the Capitals inch closer to a playoff berth.
“You mean the good old days?” Backstrom said with a wide smile. “It’s good, we’re working hard out there. . . . We’ve got to come to work every night. It’s do or die for us right now. You’ve got to come to work every night, it’s going to be important.”
Ovechkin recorded his 19th and 20th goals of the season to become the only player to reach the 20-goal plateau in all eight seasons since the 2004-05 lockout and extend his personal scoring streak to nine games. He has 10 goals and five assists in that span.
Backstrom posted his first four-assist night since Nov. 11, 2010, and Green scored two goals in a single contest for the first time since Oct. 22, 2011.
The Capitals (17-17-2) improved to 36 points and the NHL’s version of .500. Washington sits two points back of Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg with two games in hand and trails the New York Islanders by three points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It's obviously huge for those guys to just play the way that they did. We need them playing like that from here on out in every game. It's obviously fun to watch. It's something,” fourth-liner Jay Beagle said. “We look to them for leadership and we all fall under them and kind of feed off them and go from there in the games. It was awesome.”
Washington didn’t get off to a strong start against the Hurricanes, who are vying for their own playoff hopes. Jason Chimera accidentally put the puck past goaltender Braden Holtby (31 saves) while trying to settle a bouncing rebound with 11:32 gone in the first period to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. Less than four minutes later Jiri Tlusty, who was credited with the first goal, scored on his own when he shot between Holtby’s legs on the power play to make it 2-0.
But before the period came to a close Backstrom and Ovechkin combined to put Washington on the board. As he entered the offensive zone Backstrom made a sly drop pass to Ovechkin and then set a pick of Carolina’s defensemen, allowing Ovechkin to take a few strides and step into a powerful snap shot. The puck blasted into the upper left hand corner to make it 2-1 with 39 seconds remaining in the first.
Given life by Ovechkin’s late tally the Capitals regrouped during the intermission. Forty-two seconds into the second period, Green rifled a shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2.
“I don't think we have a pretty good start, all the team. After that goal, Greenie score right away in the second was huge. We just kept rolling,” Ovechkin said. “That kind of confidence after that like what we have, when you play with confidence, you know every chance whether you're gonna score or not, it's gonna be hard for them.”
While Carolina regained the lead briefly on Tlusty’s third goal of the game at 1:52 of the second, the Capitals answered back before three minutes elapsed. Backstrom made another nifty drop pass and drew the Hurricanes defensemen toward him as Green gained control of the puck and snapped a shot from the top of the circles that chased starter Dan Ellis from the net after allowing three goals on seven shots.
“My shot the first one probably shouldn’t have went in and we sensed the goalie was a little bit hesitant so we were just throwing everything at him,” Green said. “It worked out.”
Ovechkin’s goal on the odd-man rush with Backstrom came with 11:06 gone in the second period. Late in the middle stanza Joel Ward scored on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush with Marcus Johansson to add an extra cushion, but it was the Capitals stars who set the tone for the comeback. And when they’re on top of their game there’s no telling what Washington might be capable of.
“They had a big game for us tonight and that's huge. We were down 2-0 and we came back and we need that from everyone,” Johansson said. “Everybody wants to be on their best and when some of the best players in the world are on their best, it's pretty good.”
Capitals notes: Defenseman Jack Hillen signed a two-year, $1.4 million extension Tuesday. . . . Washington signed college free agent defenseman Nate Schmidt (Minnesota) to a two-year, entry level contract. . . . John Erskine was activated from injured reserve while Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek were assigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.