The Washington Capitals are serious contenders for the playoffs. They hit five straight wins last night, beating the Southeast Division's first place Carolina Hurricanes. It's the first time Washington has managed five straight since March 3 - March 11, 2001. Goalie Cristobal Huet netted his seventh straight win, reaching 30 wins in a season for the first time in his career. The Capitals seem ready to take on anybody, right now.
The hitting started early in the game. Showing Carolina that the Capitals were ready to do whatever it was going to take to win this game, Washington delivered six hits in the first 5:47. They seemed to all come in pairs. Chad LaRose probably thought the Cap's were picking on him, with Matt Cooke getting him at 0:43 followed by Viktor Kozlov at 1:14. It was Cooke that got the scoring started fifteen minutes into the first period. Sergei Fedorov fed the puck to Mike Green, who sent a long range shot toward the goal. Cooke was there to put the rebound past Cam Ward. About a minute and a half later, Shaone Morrisonn took a hard shoulder check by Jeff Hamilton. Morrisonn did not return to the game. The Capitals are calling it an upper body injury. I'm guessing it could be a separated shoulder. I hope it's not that serious, because Mo is a major part of the Washington defense. Just before the end of the first period, the Capitals went on the power play. Kozlov passed the puck to Tomas Fleischmann as Washington entered the offensive zone. From the side wall, Flash sent the puck to Brooks Laich in the slot. Laich effortlessly backhanded in his 21st goal of the season, putting the Cap's ahead 2-0.
. Just 2:38 into the second period, Scott Walker got the 'canes only goal of the game. With Laich's stick slashed from his hands and Walker running over top of Huet, defenseman Milan Jurcina actually pushed Walker and the puck into the net while trying to clear the crease. In the end it wouldn't matter. About three minutes later, Huet skated about thirty feet out from the net to put a big hit on Eric Staal, who was on a breakaway. Awesome! It really got rough in the second. Both teams got their power play chances. But, the Capitals were the only ones making those chances count. Around the 13:00 mark, Staal gave Huet a little whack with his stick as he skated by. Alex Ovechkin went after him at the end wall. Staal went down unbelievably easily. Carolina's Niclas Wallin got into the mix. With Ovechkin and Wallin in the penalty boxes, Washington got their second PP goal. Fedorov's shot was blocked, and the puck went over to Green, who's shot was also blocked. Alexander Semin was parked right at the left post. He collected the puck between his skates and somehow roofed the sharp angle shot. Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette erupted in anger over the coincidental minor that put Wallin in the box right before the goal. Wouldn't have made a difference Petie. For his part, Ovechkin got roughed up at the end of the period by Bret Hedican. Real smart 'canes.
The Hurricanes were finally able to keep Washington's shots down to match their own eight in the third period. But, it was too little, too late. Carolina kept trying to draw penalties. But, they kept matching their successes with penalties of their own, in the third. With just under four minutes left, Jeff Schultz fed an outlet pass to Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom skated deep into the Hurricanes' end before dropping it off to Ovechkin. Ovie grabbed the rolling puck, spun around and banked it off the far post for goal number 63 of the season.
. The Capitals spent 50 days in the Southeast's last place earlier this season. They are now tied for first place, as far as points. They are just one point away from being the sole owner of that spot. They are also just one point out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They still have a shot at getting into the playoffs via one of those routes.
All Photos - Nick Wass / AP