Hurricanes-Capitals Preview

The Carolina Hurricanes were the last team to win in regulation

at Washington, and they’re one of the NHL’s hottest clubs as they

get set to return to the nation’s capital.

After acquiring a pair of players for the stretch run from their

Southeast Division rival before the trading deadline, the

NHL-leading Capitals are expected to have Joe Corvo and Scott

Walker face their former club for the first time Wednesday

night.

Washington’s 18-1-1 record in its last 20 home games is a big

reason why the Capitals (44-13-9) have a 13-point lead atop the

Eastern Conference.

But their only regulation defeat in that stretch was a 6-3 loss

to Carolina on Dec. 28 as the Hurricanes’ Eric Staal had two goals

and three assists. At the time, Carolina was last in the East.

“We were in last for a long time, and teams start to take you

for granted, and we were a good team,” Walker said of the

Hurricanes. “All that skill and stuff is coming out now, and if you

take them for granted, then you’re going to end up at the wrong end

of the night.”

The victory began an 18-9-0 stretch for the Hurricanes, who’ve

won eight of their last nine and climbed out of the conference

cellar. But thanks to an injury-riddled start, Carolina’s playoff

chances are slim one season after reaching the East finals.

The Hurricanes were sellers last Wednesday, sending Corvo and

Walker to Washington in separate deals.

Corvo has taken over for fellow defenseman Brian Pothier, who

was sent to Carolina. Walker scored two third-period goals in a 5-4

win over Tampa Bay in his Capitals debut Thursday, although he was

a healthy scratch Monday against Dallas.

“I’m still trying to get accommodated and accustomed to systems

here, so it’s really just concentrate on what we’re doing,” Walker

said. “Obviously playing guys that you’re familiar with is always

interesting.”

The Hurricanes are no strangers to Washington star Alex

Ovechkin, who has at least one point in 12 straight games against

Carolina, totaling four goals and 17 assists.

Although the Capitals’ 13-game home winning streak was snapped

in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars on Monday, the team was happy

to get two goals from Ovechkin. The two-time reigning Hart Trophy

winner had been held without a goal in six straight games – his

longest drought this season.

Ovechkin is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the league

lead with 44 goals and is alone atop the NHL with 92 points.

“He was frustrated the last few games. I told him this morning,

‘You’ve got to work harder,'” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said

Monday. “… When he has his energy, well, he is what he is: the

best player in the world.”

Ovechkin will try to beat veteran Manny Legace, who has gone

5-0-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average in his last five starts as

he helps to fill in for injured starter Cam Ward.

The Hurricanes (27-31-7) had a seven-game winning streak snapped

with a 4-1 loss at Florida on Saturday, but bounced back Sunday

with a 4-0 win at Atlanta, as Jussi Jokinen scored his 15th goal in

his last 19 games and Legace made 27 saves for his first shutout of

the season.

“It’s huge,” Legace said. “It’s what you dream about. It’s

everything you want. In this league, it’s so hard to do.”

The 37-year-old is 2-0-0 with a 1.77 GAA in his career against

the Capitals, although he has not faced them since he was with St.

Louis in a 4-3 win on Oct. 27, 2007.