Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott weren’t enough to hold off a desperate Carolina Hurricanes squad. Five points out of the last playoff spot, the Hurricanes held on for their first victory of the season over the Southeast rival Washington Capitals.
Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen scored for the Hurricanes, who moved to within three points of Buffalo with the victory. Cam Ward made 38 stops on 40 shots and bested Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in the skills contest.
Skinner’s shootout tally sealed the victory and earned him the game’s second star.
The Hurricanes (36-30-10, 82 points) got help elsewhere Tuesday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-3, keeping the Sabres within arm’s reach as the season draws to a close.
Alex Semin and Marcus Johansson scored for the Capitals.
The bonus point kept the Capitals (44-22-11) within three points of the East-leading Philadelphia Flyers, who defeated a Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins squad 5-2 earlier in the night.
Carolina entered the game within five spots of Buffalo, which still occupies the 8th seed after the loss to Toronto. Tuesday’s box scores narrowed the margin three points, and Carolina’s playoff chances continue to flicker for the time being.
Buffalo and Carolina each have six games remaining.
Ovechkin registered five shots on goal but no points in his first game back. The winger missed three games with an undisclosed injury, something many saw as time to rest. Jason Arnott also was held without a point, returning after a six-game absence. He finished a minus-one on the night.
Defenseman Mike Green remains out of the lineup.
Jeff Skinner’s bid for the Calder Trophy continues. Skinner tied the game early in the third period with a seeing-eye shot from a sharp angle, one Semyon Varlamov would probably like to have back. Skinner leads Logan Couture by two points in the rookie scoring race (27-28-55). His 27 goals are second-most amongst NHL rookies, trailing Couture’s 30.
Eric Staal briefly left the game after taking a high stick to the face. Though Staal seemed to be bleeding nicely, no penalty was assessed on the play.
Cam Ward earned the first star of the game, stopping 38 shots en route to the game’s first star (.950 save percentage). Hockey folks continue to overlook Ward when discussing players like Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price and what they mean to their respective teams. Carolina continues to allow more shots than any team in hockey (33.2 per game). Without Ward’s 33-25-9 mark (2.64 – .920), the Hurricanes would have been eliminated in February.
Help (Still) Wanted
As big as the win over Washington was for the Hurricanes, just as important was help from other teams. Carolina is not in control of its playoff destiny. The Canes will enter tomorrow’s action out of the playoff picture, but came a little closer to climbing in as the Maple Leafs ended the Sabres three-game winning streak in regulation.
Atlanta trails Carolina by six points and is effectively out of playoff contention.
Toronto’s win means its slim playoff hopes remain alive. If at any point the Hurricanes have to worry about being caught by Toronto, the playoffs will already have been out of the question. Toronto trails Carolina by two points, Buffalo by five, and has one fewer remaining game than both.
Carolina passed its first big test with the win over Washington, who they had not beaten in five previous tries this season. Next is a date with the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night.
Recent history doesn’t suggest good things for Carolina heading into the game. The Hurricanes are 0-3-0 against Montreal this season, having been outscored 14-7 over that stretch (including a 7-2 loss). The second of back-to-back games have also been unkind to the Hurricanes. Carolina is 6-10-1 in the back half of those sets, as opposed to 11-3-4 in the first game.
Montreal beat Atlanta 3-1 on Tuesday, ending a 3-game scoreless streak.