Just as the Washington Capitals dared to think they had found stability in their play, both the Carolina Hurricanes and a chorus of boos inside Verizon Center reminded them that five strong periods do not a consistent team make.
Carolina scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes 44 seconds in the second period to pull away en route to a 4-1 win over the Capitals on Tuesday night, chasing starting goaltender Braden Holtby from the net after he allowed four goals on 23 shots through two periods.
The loss snapped Washington’s modest two-game winning streak, and the team has now lost five of its last seven games. The derailment in this particular contest didn’t come until Carolina’s second-period outburst; in fact the Capitals had one of their best starts of the year.
But when the time came to respond with an opponent performing well, Washington had no answer.
“We maybe underestimated these guys a little bit,” Karl Alzner said of the Hurricanes, who had lost six of eight prior to Tuesday’s game. “When they were up 3-0 on us, we were mad, but we didn’t use that anger the right way. We just kind of felt sorry for ourselves. It was really strange to see.”
Despite creating several quality scoring chances in the opening frame, Washington couldn’t find a way to best Hurricanes backup goaltender Justin Peters, who was stellar and stopped all but one of the 27 shots he faced.
In the first period alone, Peters made a paddle stop on Jason Chimera, who was on the doorstep with a wide-open net, foiled a point-blank chance for Marcus Johansson and later turned aside a blast from Alex Ovechkin with his blocker.
“He made some big saves,” said Carolina winger Jeff Skinner, who recorded two goals in the contest. “It changes the whole game if one of those goes in. He was big for us, especially early and then down the stretch he was solid for us.”
As Peters kept Washington at bay, the Hurricanes took a 1-0 lead just past the midway point of the first when Skinner recorded his first goal. Left unguarded along the goal line, Skinner snuck a bad-angle shot in as Holtby hugged the right post to make it 1-0 at 10:21.
“Might have been our best start all year,” Coach Adam Oates said. “They got a goal along the goal line that I’m sure Holts wants back and it puts you behind the eight ball.”
While they trailed by only one, the Capitals squandered a pair of power-play chances that provided the window to climb back into the contest. They mustered four shots, but only one on the second opportunity during which they couldn’t even set up in the offensive zone.
Then Skinner put the Hurricanes up by two with 11:18 gone in the second after a stretch pass from Jay Harrison found him ready to cross the offensive blue line. The speedy winger burst past Tyson Strachan and ripped a shot past Holtby, blocker side.
“As soon as they got that second goal we kind of deflated and we never got our energy back up from there,” said Mike Green, who recorded his first goal of the year and the Capitals’ lone marker of the contest in the third period. “I think we could have put a little more pucks on net, maybe somebody get in a fight or throw a big check that would maybe turned the momentum around. We can always say it afterwards but until you do it during a game and understand how the momentum shifts work we were right where we were all game.”
Less than two minutes later, Mikhail Grabovski tripped Jordan Staal, giving Carolina a power play with a chance to deliver another blow to the Capitals’ comeback hopes. A shot from the point by defenseman Andrej Sekera found its way through traffic in front on the man advantage to make it 3-0 at the 14:09 mark of the middle stanza.
Fifty-three seconds after Sekera’s tally Jiri Tlusty came with the knockout punch. After a point shot stalled in the high slot, Tlusty snatched it and sent a nifty backhander past Holtby to make it 4-0.
As the final moments of the second period wound down, the home crowd offered up Bronx cheers for the most routine saves that Holtby made. Oates opted to put top goaltending prospect Philipp Grubauer in net for the start of the third. Grubauer stopped all nine shots he faced.
“I wasn’t happy with Braden’s game but I think he’s earned the right to try and salvage and us pick him up,” Oates said. “We got to the fourth one, I could have pulled him then, but I figured finish the period out.”
As the two teams headed to their respective dressing rooms at the end of the second period the boos reached a crescendo inside the building on F Street, but the Capitals’ struggles were clear long before the audible dissent.
Capitals note: Brooks Laich missed a third consecutive game with a groin injury.