RALEIGH, N.C. –
The Capitals recorded three power-play goals in the second period Friday night to surge past Carolina for a 4-2 win at PNC Arena, a victory made even more special when Alex Ovechkin sealed it with an empty-net tally for his 400th goal with 24.5 seconds remaining.
Ovechkin became the 89th player in NHL history to reach the 400-goal plateau and is the sixth fastest to do so, accomplishing the feat in 634 games (one game earlier than Pavel Bure).
Only Wayne Gretzky (436), Mike Bossy (506), Mario Lemieux (508), Brett Hull (520) and Jari Kurri (608) reached it faster.
“It’s big number and being in this kind of company, it’s a tremendous honor for me,” Ovechkin said. “I never felt like I’m going to be in this position when I start playing in NHL. Of course I wanted to be, but thanks to everybody — my coaches, my partners. Without them, I can’t reach these numbers.”
Washington improved to 7-2-1 in its past 10 games with the win over the Hurricanes and is 5-1-1 in its past seven. Marcus Johansson, John Carlson and Troy Brouwer all scored on the man advantage as the Capitals overcame a rough start, thanks largely to their rookie netminder. Philipp Grubauer had another strong performance, making 39 saves for his fourth win of the season. The 22-year-old remained undefeated in regulation as he out-dueled Carolina’s Cam Ward, who finished with 25 saves.
Once again, however, the Capitals had to weather their own struggles in the first period. Washington had difficulty advancing the puck past the red line in the opening five minutes and were outhustled at even strength for the bulk of the period. Meanwhile, Grubauer did his part to keep the visitors in the contest.
Within the first four minutes, Grubauer fended off a breakaway chance by Jeff Skinner and then had to face Jordan Staal in alone after the Hurricanes’ center cut through Washington’s top defensive pairing. Both Carolina forwards would have multiple opportunities, though, with Staal getting a shorthanded look and Skinner trying on a backhander in front with a little over half of the period remaining.
“It was good, it got me into the game,” Grubauer said of the heavy workload at the start. “It looked like we were a little bit flat coming out of the first, but when there are breakdowns I’m supposed to make the saves. That’s my job.”
The Capitals gradually showed signs of life, with the top line putting together a strong shift with a little more than five minutes to play. But Washington still was having trouble slowing down the Hurricanes in transition, an issue that proved costly before the opening period came to a close.
Staal cashed in when a touch pass from Alexander Semin in the neutral zone sprung the rangy center up ice. Staal beat Grubauer cleanly to the low blocker side for a 1-0 Carolina lead with 17:12 gone in the first.
But Washington had the benefit of opening the second period on the power play after Eric Staal was whistled for high sticking, and the Capitals didn’t waste time.
Forty-one seconds into the middle period, Ward bobbled the puck after making an initial stop on a shot by Nicklas Backstrom. Johansson followed up with his second attempt and managed to push it past Ward’s left skate to knot the contest at 1.
The Capitals’ power play, which entered ranked second in the league with a 24.8 conversion percentage, was just getting started. Carolina focused on isolating Ovechkin to prevent the league’s leading goal scorer from firing one-timers at will, but the Capitals adapted to the coverage well to take advantage of the extra space in the slot and for shooters from the point.
When Tuomo Ruutu hauled down Joel Ward to put Washington back on the man-advantage with a little over eight minutes gone in the second, the power play needed only 15 seconds to convert. Carlson gave the Capitals their first lead of the game at 2-1 with a one-timer from the point that found its way through traffic to the back of the net with 8:34 gone in the second.
“Every time that they were making a little push [the power play] gave us a little confidence, and we did some good things to earn the power plays,” Coach Adam Oates said. “That can’t get overlooked. Yeah, we lived off the power play, but we also had zone time to earn those power plays.”
Carolina answered with a power-play goal of its own when Riley Nash scored to make it 2-2, but the Capitals would get another power-play opportunity before the period came to a close from none other than Semin.
There is no team more familiar with offensive-zone stick penalties by Semin than the Capitals, but this time they were the beneficiaries. The former Washington winger tripped Mike Green with less than six minutes to go in the period, paving the way for another Capitals’ lead.
Green broke his stick as he fired a shot from the point, but Brouwer managed to deflect the shot on its way through the slot to put the Capitals up 3-2 at the 15:29 mark of the second, and they would hang on to the advantage.
“You don’t want to have to rely on [the power play],” Brouwer said, “But whenever it’s going to power you through games, absolutely you want to rely on it.”
Capitals note: Johansson suffered a lower body injury in the second period and didn’t return to the contest. He’s questionable for Saturday’s game against New Jersey.