Hurricanes-Capitals Preview

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

out.”

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

of 2010-11.

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

postseason.

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

three games.

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.