Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice thinks his team may need
to win out to earn a playoff berth. That likely won’t be easy with
a trip to the nation’s capital forthcoming.
The Hurricanes look to avoid a season sweep by the Southeast
Division-leading Washington Capitals, who could have Alex Ovechkin
back in the lineup when they meet Tuesday night.
Carolina (35-30-10) is five points behind Buffalo for the final
Eastern Conference playoff spot with seven games remaining. The
Hurricanes lost some ground Saturday, as their three-game winning
streak ended with a 4-2 home loss to Tampa Bay and the Sabres
defeated New Jersey.
“Now we’re going to need help,” Maurice said. “We’re going to
have to come pretty close to running the table from here on
That seems like a tall order with five games remaining against
teams currently in the top eight in their respective conferences.
Making matters worse, this stretch begins against a Washington club
that has outscored Carolina 14-7 in winning the first five meetings
Nicklas Backstrom has led the Capitals with four goals in those
games, while Ovechkin has two goals and six assists.
Ovechkin has missed the last three contests with an undisclosed
injury but returned to practice Monday and said he was “ready to
go” for this game. Coach Bruce Boudreau was more cautious, saying
Ovechkin skated well and may be back by the end of the week.
Washington is returning home after a 2-0 win over Montreal on
Saturday that concluded a 4-2-0 road trip. This will be the
Capitals’ first game at the Verizon Center, where they’ve won all
five games this month, since March 13.
Unlike the Hurricanes, Washington knows it’s headed to the
The Capitals have clinched a playoff berth and are second in the
East with 98 points, two behind Philadelphia. They lead the
division by seven points with six games to play.
Despite battling for first place in the East, Washington remains
unsettled in net, using its three capable goaltenders in the last
Michal Neuvirth, who has made a team-high 41 starts, sat out the
last two contests with an illness. Semyon Varlamov returned to the
ice Friday after missing 14 games with an undisclosed injury and
stopped 21 shots in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa.
Rookie Braden Holtby got the start Saturday and made 18 saves
for his second shutout and sixth consecutive win.
“We’ve got three No. 1 goaltenders,” Boudreau said.
All three have had success against the Hurricanes this season.
Varlamov has posted a 1.95 goals-against average in his three wins,
Neuvirth made 29 saves in a 3-0 victory Oct. 27 and Holtby stopped
40 shots in a 2-1 win March 11, the most recent meeting.
The Capitals’ three goalies have benefited all season from the
team’s newfound commitment to defense. Washington has scored 113
fewer goals than last season’s league-high total of 318, but it’s
yielded the fifth fewest in the league with 182. The Caps gave up
233 goals in 2009-10.
“I think for most of them now it’s fun to win by not allowing
the other team to score, whereas last year it was fun to win
because we scored six goals,” Boudreau said.
Carolina’s Cam Ward hasn’t been as dominant in the season
series, recording a 2.25 GAA in his four starts.