WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals dominated early and came up big late, earning a shootout win despite giving up a last-gasp goal to allow the Carolina Hurricanes to force overtime.
Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves and stopped all three Carolina attempts in the shootout to lead the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes on Sunday.
Varlamov has now won three straight starts after missing more than a month because of a groin injury.
“He made some great saves,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Washington built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson, but the Capitals weren’t able to put the Hurricanes away despite outshooting Carolina 40-28 for the game.
Carolina’s Eric Staal forced overtime with three seconds left in regulation, scoring his 11th goal of the season. Staal also had an assist on Erik Cole’s goal early in the second period.
Staal’s equalizer came after he won a faceoff and then grabbed a loose puck in traffic in front of the net.
“I ended up winning the draw clean back and just took off for the net,” Staal said. “That’s where the puck’s got to go. It kind of bounced around in front of there, and I got a good handle on it.”
Carolina goaltender Cam Ward kept the Hurricanes in position with 38 saves, but Alex Ovechkin got the better of Ward in the final session, scoring the only goal of the shootout.
“I think (Ward) played a tremendous game today,” Ovechkin said. “I think we dominated them almost all game, but he played unbelievable. Varly played great, too—I think they both deserve it.”
After the first period, it appeared the Capitals would have no trouble putting away the Hurricanes.
The Capitals’ first goal came seven minutes in, when Eric Fehr won the puck in the right corner behind the goal and passed to Johansson, who was all alone on the right side in front of the net. Johansson brought the puck across the crease and slipped it past Carolina goalie Cam Ward for the score.
Semin added another goal on a 2-on-1 break late in the first period. Ovechkin brought the puck down the left side and made a move to get around Carolina defenceman Tim Gleason. From there, Ovechkin pushed a backhand pass to the right side for Semin, who banged it home to give Washington a 2-0 lead.
Semin has scored 18 goals this season and four in two games after his hat trick against Tampa Bay on Friday.
“I knew they would regroup and come back,” Boudreau said. “In the first 10 minutes of the second period it was up to us to meet their push and hopefully get another goal and break their will. That was the plan, but we didn’t come out very hard.”
Washington finished the first period with a 17-7 edge in shots, but Carolina answered in the first minute of the second period on Cole’s goal.
Staal brought the puck behind the net, and with Capitals defenceman John Erskine skating with him, Staal turned and dumped to Cole, who tapped in the goal from the right side of the crease 50 seconds into the second period.
“The first period wasn’t great, but we fought back and battled hard,” Staal said. “It’s a tough way to lose. We’ve got to find a way to win a shootout.”
The Capitals have now won two of their three shootouts this season, and six of eight overtime contests. Carolina, on the other hand, has lost its past three shootouts. Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu all came up empty for the Hurricanes against Varlamov.
“That’s the question that we have to answer,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “Do we just keep running these guys until they get back to form, because they have been very good at it, or do you have start auditioning other people?”
The Capitals have won three straight overall and all three matchups against Carolina this season. The previous two meetings were in Carolina, including a 3-2 Washington victory on Wednesday.
“I think we could have won this game,” Ruutu said. “I don’t think we’re satisfied with one point. We shouldn’t be.”
Notes: It was the 1,000th NHL game coached by Carolina’s Paul Maurice. Maurice is the 19th coach to reach the milestone, and the youngest at 43 years and 302 days old. The previous record holder was Brian Sutter, who coached his 1,000th game aged 47 years, 117 days. … Capitals D Mike Green returned after missing two games with an undisclosed injury. Green skated off the ice in apparent pain after blocking a shot with his leg in overtime. “Have you ever blocked a shot? It hurts,” Boudreau said. “He’s going to be fine, but they hurt.”