WASHINGTON – With players like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau never got too worried when his team slumped.
Even a four-game home losing streak wasn’t cause for real concern.
“We’re a good team,” Boudreau said. “Good teams don’t lose forever.”
Thanks to offence provided early by – who else? – Ovechkin, Semin and Green, and some clutch goaltending late by Jose Theodore, the Capitals finally rediscovered how to win in Washington, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 in a shootout Saturday night.
Ovechkin moved within one goal of becoming the first Capitals player with 50 in three seasons and netted the clincher in the shootout. Semin scored his 29th goal and added three assists, while Green had his 24th goal – the most among NHL defencemen – and one assist.
The Capitals won 18 of their first 20 home games this season, but entered Saturday just 7-8-1 since then. Magnifying their woes in Washington: They have won five games in a row away from the nation’s capital.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit at home. If you’re going to have success in the playoffs, you have to have a great record at home,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who added a goal and an assist. “I mean, we have to start winning at home again.”
After a bit of what Boudreau called a stumble, the Capitals have a three-game winning streak overall and a comfortable lead atop the Southeast Division.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are locked in a tight race among six teams for the final four post-season berths in the Eastern Conference. And while they spoke afterward about being pleased to leave with one standings point instead of zero – the Hurricanes rallied from deficits of 3-1 and 4-2 – they also were left to discuss how they failed to convert any of their many chances in overtime, including during a power play.
“Nobody had any legs left,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “We were dragging.”
Erik Cole, Eric Staal and Ray Whitney each scored for Carolina, now winless in its past three road games.
“We worked our tail off in the third period to get ourselves back,” Carolina goalie Cam Ward said.
But in the shootout, Theodore stopped attempts by Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen, while Semin tallied after Ward blocked Viktor Kozlov’s try.
That left things up to Ovechkin. The last time Washington played at home, it was Ovechkin’s miss in a shootout that left the Capitals on the losing end against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He delivered on this night.
“We have the skill,” Ovechkin said. “We just have to play simple.”
He and Semin each extended personal point streaks, while Green ended his seven-game goal drought. Ovechkin has seven goals and seven assists in his past 10 games, while Semin is up to seven goals and nine assists in his personal-best nine-game run.
It was 1 1/2 minutes into the second period when Semin put the hosts up 3-1, collecting a rebound and spinning around to shoot.
“What can I say? It’s pretty hard to stop him,” Ovechkin said.
But Staal cut the deficit just before the period’s six-minute mark, right after Ward thwarted a 5-on-1 rush for Washington. Defenceman Dennis Seidenberg got the puck to Ray Whitney breaking the other way for what became a 2-on-1, and while Theodore blocked the initial shot, Staal was there to knock in the rebound.
“It was like pond hockey, and in the playoffs, you have to play much more structured,” Boudreau said. “When we had the 5-on-1, five guys is too much. Three guys would have been fine.”
After Backstrom’s goal gave Washington a 4-2 lead 12 1/2 minutes into the second period, Carolina rallied.
Whitney scored with 7.3 seconds remaining in the period, off assists from Cole and Staal. And then they tied it midway through the third on Niclas Wallin’s goal.
Thanks to Theodore’s strong play the rest of the way, the Hurricanes wouldn’t put the puck in the net again.
“Jose was great all night,” Boudreau said. “If he wasn’t at his top of his game, they would have had six or seven, easy.”
Notes: Washington’s Sergei Fedorov (flulike symptoms) and Donald Brashear (knee) missed their second game in a row. … Hurricanes RW Scott Walker missed a fifth consecutive game with an upper-body injury.