RALEIGH, N.C. – As Alex Ovechkin finished talking to reporters in Washington’s dressing room, he looked over at teammate Nicklas Backstrom.
“You’re the superstar,” Ovechkin told him.
There were a few Capitals players who also deserved such high praise—and that’s one reason why their pesky losing streak is over.
Brooks Laich scored the winning goal with 7:58 left, and Washington snapped a three-game slide with a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
Backstrom had two goals, Ovechkin finished with three assists, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots and made a series of big saves late for the Southeast Division-leading Capitals. They blew a 2-0 lead in the third period but regrouped to avoid their first four-game skid in more than a year.
“We bent a little, but we didn’t break,” Laich said. “It’s a good sign when they tied it up that we still came back and pushed back and were able to score. Once we did, we didn’t give them any chances to tie it up. … Get the winning attitude back and get over this little slide that we had and go home feeling good.”
Laich’s winner came five seconds into a slashing penalty on rookie Jeff Skinner. After the faceoff, the puck made its way to Ovechkin, who uncorked what appeared to be a hard wrist shot that Laich tipped past Justin Peters for his sixth goal. Laich said Ovechkin actually was passing the puck to him.
“It was a broken play where the goalie tried to clear it,” Laich said. “Now their defenders don’t know where to go. I kind of slipped in behind, and (Ovechkin) found the seam and hit me with a nice pass. Nice little break. I’ll take it and run.”
Sergei Samsonov and Eric Staal scored 4:01 apart in the third period to pull the Hurricanes even at 2-2.
“I think our compete is pretty darned good,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “We’re still learning not to do the things that slow us down—turning pucks over, not putting them at the net—but at the very least, they showed signs that they can change gears if they have to. If the first 10 minutes are not going your way, that doesn’t mean the night’s over. They can build some confidence and know that they can come back in games.”
Ovechkin, who skated at right wing instead of his customary spot on the left side of the Capitals’ top line, went without a goal for the fifth straight game, his longest drought of the season. He hasn’t scored against Carolina in eight consecutive games—his worst stretch against any team. But he certainly generated plenty of offence for Washington, assisting on both of Backstrom’s goals before setting up Laich’s winner.
Varlamov made his first appearance since Oct. 21. He had played in only two other games this season because of a groin injury, but was solid and strengthened a defence that had allowed five goals in each of its previous three games.
“It was so important” for Varlamov to make some big saves, Backstrom said. “It’s good for his confidence, especially when he has been down (in the AHL). … It’s good for him to be back and do those kind of saves and help us to win.”
That slide included road losses to Atlanta and New Jersey by 5-0 scores. In between was a 5-4 shootout loss at home to Philadelphia.
Varlamov took a shutout bid into the third period before Samsonov beat him with 15:56 left to pull the Hurricanes to 2-1. Staal then tied it with 11:55 left when he muscled in a rebound on the power play for his 10th goal.
Peters had 35 saves for the Hurricanes, who have lost five of six and three straight, though the previous two were decided by shootouts.
“We’ve got to try to have a better start,” Staal said. “We can’t let a good team like that get two goals on you early in the game and expect to win.”
Backstrom finished with his second multigoal game of the season, and both have come against the Hurricanes. He scored twice in the Capitals’ 3-0 win on Oct. 27 in Raleigh.
First, he put the Capitals up 1-0 with 6:42 left in the first. Ovechkin fired a shot from the right wing, and when the rebound slipped away from Peters, Backstrom pushed the puck through the goalie’s pads. Backstrom then made it 2-0 during 4-on-4 play at 1:01 of the second period. He took a pass from Ovechkin and sneaked a wrist shot past Peters for his ninth goal.
NOTES: Peters started in place of Cam Ward, whose wife gave birth to their first son earlier Wednesday. … It was Staal’s 500th NHL game. He became the third-youngest player in franchise history to reach that mark. … One of the newest Hurricanes, RW Troy Bodie bloodied the face of Washington RW Matt Bradley during a first-period fight. … The Capitals recalled D Brian Fahey from AHL Hershey.