WASHINGTON – Playoff hockey, it isn’t.
If the Washington Capitals are going to make it to the post-season for the fifth straight time, they must lift their level of play. And they’d better do it quickly.
Justin Faulk scored the game-winner at 3:38 of overtime, Cam Ward stopped 46 shots, and the Carolina Hurricanes took advantage of several Washington mistakes in a 4-3 victory Tuesday night.
Faulk took a centring pass from Brandon Sutter and fired the puck past goaltender Michal Neuvirth to saddle the Capitals with their third successive defeat, although Washington did get a point by forcing overtime late in regulation.
Carolina scored off two odd-man rushes, received a gift-wrapped breakaway and benefited from a strange bounce off the back boards. It all added up to a rare road win for the Hurricanes and another miserable night for the Capitals.
“Turnovers. Missed assignments. Just not playing the situation,” Washington’s Brooks Laich said. “If you’re going to give up goals, you want to make them work for it.”
After suffering two straight shutout losses, both at home, Washington went ahead 2-0 before Carolina came back to take the lead on a breakaway goal by Sutter at 1:45 of the third period. The tally came after Capitals defenceman Dennis Wideman took a futile whack at the bouncing puck in an effort to keep it in the Washington zone.
“It was just a bad read,” Wideman said. “Those are the plays that cost you playoff series, don’t let you get into playoffs. It’s just stupid.”
There was plenty of blame to go around.
“It seems like whenever they score, it’s too easy,” Washington’s Jay Beagle said. “We’re giving them easy goals from either turnovers or missed coverage. I was guilty of a couple turnovers tonight, too.”
Washington salvaged a point in the standings when Laich scored off a centring pass from Marcus Johansson at 17:08 of the third.
“It’s not what we’re hoping for, but it’s better than nothing,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said.
It was the Hurricanes’ eighth road win, still the fewest in the NHL.
“We felt like we played a pretty solid road game tonight and were deserving to get the two points,” Carolina captain Eric Staal said.
Staal extended his point-scoring streak to 12 games with an assist on the Hurricanes’ first goal. Staal’s streak, during which he’s registered seven goals and 14 assists, is the longest by a Carolina player since the team moved from Hartford, Conn., before the 1997-98 season.
But this one was about the team, which effectively bounced back after Laich’s late tally.
“The last two or three years, a lot of times we’ve had tight games here in Washington and lost our fair share in overtime,” Sutter said. “To come back and win it like that was a good feeling.”
Brouwer notched his 18th goal of the season at 13:59 of the first period to end Washington’s scoreless run at 133 minutes, 59 seconds. After firing a shot from the left circle, Brouwer plucked the puck off Ward’s right skate, whisked around the net and put in a backhand from the right side for a 1-0 lead.
It was the Capitals’ first goal against Carolina in three games, following shutout defeats of 3-0 on Jan. 20 and 5-0 on Feb. 20.
Beagle made it 2-0 at 4:11 of the second period by cashing in the rebound of Dmitry Orlov’s shot from the left point. Beagle had gone 48 games since Dec. 28, 2010, without a goal.
Fifty seconds later, Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty converted a centring pass from Jerome Samson.
“When you get down by two like that and make it a one-goal game again, it’s huge, especially on the road,” Sutter said. “It was a big momentum boost, and we managed to play pretty well from that point forward.”
The Hurricanes tied it when Tim Gleason took a shot that bounced off the back boards to Chad LaRose, who beat Neuvirth from the left side at 8:30.
“It’s one of them hockey plays that just happens, and I don’t blame Neuvy on that one,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said.
Soon after that, Orlov received a 10-minute misconduct penalty for shoving a linesman following an altercation with Carolina’s Jeff Skinner.
The action-filled period didn’t end until after the final buzzer, when officials determined that Beagle put the puck in the net an instant after time expired.
NOTES: The Capitals are 1-2-1 during the season-high five game homestand that ends Thursday. … Carolina hasn’t won in regulation at Washington since Dec. 28, 2009. … The longest scoring streak in Hartford/Carolina history is 18 games, by Mike Rogers in 1980-81.