RALEIGH, N.C. – The Washington Capitals brought in Viktor Kozlov at least partly to strengthen their shootout rotation. With two critical points on the line, he came through – and now they can keep thinking about finally making the playoffs again.
Kozlov scored in the third round of the shootout to lead Washington past the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Tuesday night.
“His law of averages was pretty good, and he’s pretty sharp right now. We’ll keep running with him,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Alexander Ovechkin scored his club-record 61st goal, Alexander Semin also scored and Nicklas Backstrom had two assists for the Capitals, who haven’t made the post-season since 2003, but have won six of seven to threaten Boston for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who beat Toronto 6-2, hold a two-point lead on Washington for that final berth.
“All we can do is win,” Boudreau said. “We’ve just got to keep winning and hope for the best.”
Cristobal Huet made 25 saves and stopped Carolina’s three shooters – but not before Eric Staal had him beat but rang the goal post with a hard wrist shot.
“I had (that spot) picked kind of coming up the ice,” Staal said. “It’s tough hearing that noise if it’s not in the back of the net.”
Kozlov then ended things by skating in on Cam Ward and beating him with a wrist shot to his glove side. He remained perfect in three chances when shooting third, and with 16 goals in 31 chances is the only player on Washington’s roster to score in more than half of his shootouts.
“It’s an honour if the team trusts you for the shootout,” Kozlov said. “It’s a little bit easier for us shooting when (Huet) has stopped the three before you. It takes some of the pressure off.”
Jeff Hamilton and Erik Cole scored power-play goals for Carolina, which picked up a point to strengthen its grip on the Southeast Division lead. The Hurricanes – who had won 11 of 13 – still hold a four-point lead over second-place Washington with five games remaining.
“We’ve really got to bear down here,” Ward said. “We’ve done an excellent job to put ourselves in a good position here, but we don’t want to let our foot off the gas. We want to continue to press and strive to win the division. To be able to do that, you’ve got to be able to bear down these last five games.”
Ward – who was coming off just the second shootout victory of his career five days earlier at Florida – tied a career high with 42 saves in his career-best 15th straight start for Carolina. Huet improved to 6-2 since he was dealt to Washington at the deadline.
Ovechkin – the league’s leading scorer and the first player in 12 years to reach the 60-goal mark – broke Dennis Maruk’s 26-year-old club record midway through the second period, a nifty score that broke a 1-all tie. He skated past Cole, took a feed from Backstrom near the right circle and beat Ward with a low wrist shot.
“It’s fun to score goals, especially when you break some records,” Ovechkin said. “Records are records, but it’s still about winning, it’s still about team and it was a big victory for us, a big goal for my team.”
Ovechkin could have scored No. 61 a period earlier, but his redirection skidded across the underside of the crossbar before it detoured away from the net.
Meanwhile, the Capitals considered both of the Hurricanes’ goals fluky.
Hamilton made it 1-0 by scoring on the power play with 14 seconds left in the first. His centring pass clicked off the skate of the Capitals’ Boyd Gordon and ricocheted 45 feet through the slot and past Huet, who slid across the net in anticipation of Cole’s one-timer and never saw the puck coming.
Then, after Washington scored twice in 2 1/2 minutes, Cole tied it at 2-all late in the second. He went hard toward the net and threw a backhand at the net as he was bumped by defenceman Shaone Morrisonn into Huet. No immediate signal was made by the referee, and after a review of about 5 minutes, Cole was awarded his 22nd goal.
“The first one, obviously, was not even an attempt at a shot,” Boudreau said. “They seem to get a lot of breaks in this building. … Of all our views, we never saw the puck cross the line. … It looked like it probably went in, but there was no conclusive evidence that it did go in.”
Notes: Washington improved to 4-4 in shootouts, while Carolina fell to 2-3. … Semin scored on the power play in the second, giving him three goals in five games. … Ovechkin has 16 goals in 23 career games against the Hurricanes but scored against them for the first time in three meetings. … Carolina RW Trevor Letowski had his two-game goal-scoring streak snapped. … Hurricanes RW Patrick Eaves was scratched with the flu.