By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 12:52 AM
The Washington Capitals couldn't finish any of their scoring chances through the first 40 minutes against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night and entered the third period trailing by one goal. One might think the Capitals had the Hurricanes right where they wanted them.
Third-period tallies by Alex Ovechkin and Matt Hendricks along with a 40-save outing by rookie goaltender Braden Holtby propelled the Capitals past the Hurricanes, 2-1, at Verizon Center, giving Washington its longest winning streak of the season at seven. Six of those wins, and nine of the team's last 10 wins overall, have been decided by one goal. The close contests have become a calling card for the team that now finds itself with 88 points and a three-point lead over Boston for second place in the Eastern Conference.
"It's kind of become a little bit of a character builder for us this year," Hendricks said of the one-goal victories. "Looking back over the past few years in Washington there hans't been a whole lot of adversity and guys are really coming out and playing and fighting to the end of the game and pulling out those one-goal games. It's a lot like playoff hockey right now."
The Capitals expected a feisty showing from Carolina, which stands two points out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference, and for much of the 60 minutes the Hurricanes jumped on the hosts. Carolina dictated an up-and-down pace from the start that resulted in plenty of odd-man rushes and scoring chances, but neither team could put away its opportunities.
Both Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward and Holtby, making his ninth NHL start, appeared poised from the opening faceoff, finding ways to make sure they saw the puck cleanly through a scoreless 39 minutes of play.
A shot by Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu with 35.1 seconds remaining in the second period squeezed between Holtby's arm and body as he was screened on the play to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 edge. Ruutu's goal ended Holtby's shutout streak, dating back to his appearance Monday in Tampa, at 144 minutes 24 seconds. Over his last six games in the NHL, Holtby has stopped 170 of the last 174 shots he has faced.
"Our scouting report was pretty bang-on," said Holtby, who faced the most shots the Capitals have allowed since Jan. 11 against the Panthers. "We had that they were going to crash the net and try to throw as many screens as they could and they did that all night. In the second they tried to use the net a bit more, with passes from behind the net and we played it perfectly and they never really got anything out of it."
Carolina's advantage wouldn't even last a minute into the third as Ovechkin, after a nice drop pass from Marcus Johansson, let a wrister fly that beat Ward blocker side to tie the contest at 1 just 47 seconds into the final frame.
Although the Capitals showed more energy after tying the game, the Hurricanes continued to pepper Holtby with 16 shots in the third period. One shot that the Washington netminder wouldn't be required to stop, however, was a shot by Carolina's Tim Gleason in the waning seconds of a Hurricanes' power play. Hendricks made one of the Capitals' 26 blocks on Gleason's attempt and the puck jumped out to center ice, where Jason Arnott picked it up as he came out of the penalty box.
Arnott raced down the ice on a breakaway. Ward made a stellar stop on the initial shot but Hendricks, trailing his teammate, was able to send the rebound into the net to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
The Capitals weathered a Carolina push in which the fourth line of Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley was penned in its own end for nearly 1 Â½ minutes.
On a penalty against Bradley that came at the conclusion of that shift, Washington prevented the Hurricanes from even getting set up on the power play.
Holtby and the Capitals got a little help in the final five minutes as well. A potential tying goal by Carolina was negated when the referee blew the play dead despite the puck still being loose.
"I thought we were a little lucky tonight and they're overdue to beat us," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the rivalry with the Hurricanes, who are winless in five meetings with Washington. "Sometimes it's a great matchup and sometimes you're hoping you don't play them in the playoffs. I didn't think we were very sharp. They had  shots on goal. I think they carried the play to us they were beating us to the puck. We made the plays in the third period that you had to make to win, that was it."