Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Capitals enjoy their hard-fought 3-2 regulation win over the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night in Raleigh and look ahead to Saturday’s showdown in Boston against the Bruins.
Guts, check: Down by two goals after one period and short one of their top defensemen, the Capitals could have packed it in and called it a season. Instead, fourth-liners Aaron Volpatti and Joey Crabb hooked up for a goal in the second period, Alex Ovechkin hammered home a power-play goal early in the third, and Mike Ribeiro pushed an Ovechkin rebound just over the goal line with 2:16 remaining for the win.
What it means: The Caps [11-14-1, 23 points] climbed back within eight points of the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes [15-10-1, 31 points] and into 12th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets [14-11-2, 30 points]. The Caps have a game in hand on the Jets.
Kundratek injured: Caps rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek left the game with what appeared to be a right knee injury about 8 minutes into the game when Carolina forward Jeff Skinner fell onto the back of Kundratek’s legs after taking a check from Karl Alzner behind the Capitals net. Kundratek had to be helped off the ice and did not return. He did not make the team’s trip to Boston and will be examined again today. The Capitals traded away depth defenseman Kevin Marshall on Thursday, which leaves Brett Flemming and Garrett Stafford as their right-handed options from Hershey.
Stevie O: With Kundratek sidelined, rookie Steve Oleksy played a game-high 27:55, including 2:38 on the penalty kill. He finished with two hits, one takeaway, four blocked shots and was even on the plus-minus ledger.
Neuvy's night: Michael Neuvirth looked a little shaky early but shut the door over the final 40 minutes to allow the Caps to chop away at the Hurricanes. Neuvirth finished with 28 saves, possibly earning him a start in Boston, where the Caps will try to make it two in a row. The start was Neuvirth's first since Feb. 7.
Ovi watch: After netting just one goal in his previous eight games, Ovechkin came up huge when he was needed most, rifling a power-play goal past Dan Ellis early in the third period and setting up Ribeiro’s pitchfork goal late in regulation. Ovechkin had beaten Ellis with a nice deke, but his open-net shot kicked off the right post before Ribeiro’s got enough of the puck to get it thismuch over the goal line. Ovechkin finished with six shots, three hits, one block and one takeaway while playing on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Hendricks.
Still no shootout: The Caps and Canes remain the only NHL teams that have not gone to a shootout this season.
Injury update: Mike Green [groin] and Brooks Laich [groin] skated with the Caps in Raleigh and are expected to practice with the club today at Boston University, but neither is expected to get into the lineup this weekend. Green said his groin is 100 percent healed and he’s targeting a return sometime next week. There is no definitive timetable for Laich. Meanwhile, defenseman John Erskine, who appeared to injure his hand or wrist in the Caps’ loss on Long Island last weekend is questionable for this weekend.
What’s next: The Caps will practice today at Boston University ahead of Saturday’s showdown against the Bruins, who will be looking to avenge a 4-3 overtime loss to the Capitals on March 5, a game in which they blew a 3-0 lead. The Caps follow that 1 pm. showdown with a 7 p.m. home game against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. After that, they hit the road for games against the Penguins, Jets [twice] and Rangers.