RALEIGH, N.C. — Every time the Washington Capitals cut the Carolina Hurricanes' lead in half, the feisty home team flashed into the offensive zone. With quick puck movement and gritty finishes, the Hurricanes kept the pressure on the NHL-leading Capitals, who were determined but couldn't break through.

Despite a handful of dazzling offensive moments, Washington lost, 6-4, following several self-inflicted errors Saturday night at PNC Arena. Three times in the Metropolitan Division contest, the Capitals got within a goal, only for Carolina to regain a two-goal advantage soon after.

"They had some response right away after our goals, and, you know, it was unfortunate we couldn't keep it out, and I thought we keep coming back," Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas said. "I thought we had some great looks. We hit a couple posts; just unfortunate it didn't go in there. Everyone was standing on their head."

Washington dropped to 27-8-5 as the Hurricanes (23-14-2) broke a three-game losing streak. The Capitals were without forward Tom Wilson (lower body) and defenseman Michal Kempny (illness), then lost defenseman Christian Djoos (upper body) during the game. The Capitals played a defenseman short for the final two periods.

Despite all of that, Washington only trailed 4-3 two minutes into the third period after Evgeny Kuznetsov split the Carolina defense in a smooth sequence for the Capitals' second power-play goal. John Carlson tallied a secondary assist on the goal, giving him 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) in 40 games.

But Carolina's Martin Necas answered at 3:20, and Andrei Svechnikov added an empty-netter at 15:58 — just seconds after the Capitals' Braden Holtby (23 saves) went to the bench. The Capitals' only answer came with 1:13 to go on a goal from Richard Panik. By then, it was too late.

“We get a little momentum, and we give it right back,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “A little bit of a seesaw game like that. Happy with our effort, but obviously not happy with the result at all.”

Carolina controlled the game from the start, with Lucas Wallmark tallying the opening goal on a power play at 10:38 of the first period after back-to-back early minor penalties cost the Capitals. Washington was able to kill off the five-on-three advantage, but it was unable to stop the ensuing five-on-four.

The teams combined for five goals in a back-and-forth second period, with Warren Foegele scoring twice for the Hurricanes.

“We don’t like them,” Foegele said. “They don’t like us. It’s always fun to beat them.”

The Capitals were burned just after the second period’s opening faceoff: Jordan Staal sent a slick pass to a cutting Foegele, who scored just eight seconds in. At 3:26, the Capitals’ Nic Dowd answered with his fourth goal of the season on a two-on-one, cutting Carolina’s lead in half.

The Hurricanes came right back with a goal from Dougie Hamilton on an odd-man rush at 5:12 before the Capitals responded again. In the highlight of the night, Alex Ovechkin converted a one-timer from his office in the left faceoff circle at 9:56. With his 256th power-play goal, he passed Teemu Selanne for third in NHL history. Only Dave Andreychuk (274) and Brett Hull (265) have more. The goal was the 682nd of Ovechkin’s career; he is three shy of passing Selanne for 11th on the all-time list.

But Carolina responded again: Foegele scored shorthanded at 13:02 to close the scoring in a wild period.

“They just executed on some big plays, and they are a team that kind of does that,” Holtby said. “It is a frustrating one for sure.”

With Wilson’s absence, the Capitals had to shuffle their lines, and Travis Boyd entered the lineup in his place. Boyd said he found out he would be in the lineup about midway through warmups, when he saw Wilson try to give it a go but ultimately leave the ice.

Wilson (12 goals, 14 assists) missed his first game of the season. He appeared to be banged up Friday during the Capitals’ 2-1 overtime win against Columbus at Capital One Arena. Slow to get up after a collision with the Blue Jackets’ Ryan MacInnis in the third period, he was helped to the bench but later returned to the ice.

Kempny did not travel with the team to Raleigh and missed his second straight game. Reirden said he does not have a “positive thought” about Kempny’s status for the Capitals’ New Year’s Eve matinee Tuesday against the visiting New York Islanders.

“I’m hoping [with] another day away from the guys he can get a little bit healthier,” Reirden said. “But as of right now, he wasn’t close to coming on the trip.”

Djoos, who was called up to replace Kempny ahead of Friday’s game, was not on the bench for the start of the second period and was ruled out for the rest of the game. Reirden said Djoos would be evaluated before the team decides whether to make a roster move.

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