The Washington Capitals looked poised for a big win in the return of Alex Ovechkin from injury, but instead will have to deal with a shootout loss. The Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-1 deficit to ultimately get a 3-2 shootout victory thanks to a game-clinching goal by Tuomo Ruutu. The Hurricanes move to within three points of the eighth and final playoff spot with the win.
The Capitals took a 2-1 lead at the end of two periods, on the strength of goals by Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson, and were in complete control of the game. But the Hurricanes rallied in the third period, scoring very early when Jeff Skinner put home his 27th of the season. The two teams played to a draw in the rest of the period and in overtime, setting up a shootout. The Capitals missed both of their chances, while Skinner scored first and Ruutu put home the game-winner.
Cam Ward saved 30 shots to get the victory for Carolina, while Semyon Varlamov struggled, with just 26 saves.
After a scoreless first period, the Capitals and Canadiens lit the lamp three times in the second period. The Capitals did so twice, and therefore have a 2-1 lead after two periods. Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson scored for the Capitals, while Jussi Jokenen scored for Carolina.
Jokenen scored first, putting Carolina up 1-0 with a power-play goal, and nearly scored again. The Capitals were called for a penalty shot, and Chad LaRose came skating in. But Semyon Varlamov beautifully poke-checked the puck away, and that led to a Capitals run.
Semin tied the game a couple minutes later, slipping in on a bad angle in the corner and somehow depositing the puck past Cam Ward in the top right corner. The Capitals kept the pressure, especially after Dennis Wideman had to leave the game following a hit by Tumo Ruutu. The play fired up the Capitals, and they eventually got a second goal when Semin found Johansson, who made a nifty move on the doorstep and finished with a backhand.
Alex Ovechkin's return to the ice from injury began well, as the Capitals' star had two shots on goal and some very active shifts early, but nothing resulted in any goals. The Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are scoreless after one period, with the Capitals holding a 16-11 advantage in shots.
Both teams have had power play chances, but neither resulted in much. The best chance of the period came from Carolina, when a shot squirted by goalie Semyon Varlamov, off the post, and saved away. John Carlson has four shots on goal for the Capitals, while Ovechkin and Brooks Laich have three each.
The game has been fast-paced, with few whistles stopping play. There have been lots of nice passes and forward progress, but so far, the goalies have been up to the challenge. Carolina is playing hard and playing well, which they must do because they need to win to have any chance of making the NHL playoffs.
The Washington Capitals look like they will have the services of both Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. Nothing is official, but both players took part in the morning skate and are therefore likely to play.
According to Steve Whyno of the Washington Times, two players -- Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle -- joined the traditional healthy scratches during the morning skate, clearing two open roster spots for Tuesday night's game. It certainly seems like those spots will be filled by Ovechkin and Arnott.
Ovechkin hasn't played since March 18, a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. Last Monday, Washington's coaching staff decided to give Ovechkin time to rest nagging injuries. He's missed the last three games, but participated in a full practice for the first time in a week and believes he is ready to return against Carolina. Ovechkin leads the Caps with eight total points against the Hurricanes this season (two goals, six assists).
Ovechkin's return couldn't come at a better time for the Capitals as they look to add a fourth consecutive Southeast Division Championship to the fourth consecutive playoff berth they earned in last Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Caps are seven points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the division, but the Lightning have one game in hand. Washington will face a Hurricanes team that they are undefeated against this season, sporting a 5-0-0 record with a 14-7 advantage in total goals. Carolina will be desperate; they will enter Tuesday's game in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind eighth place Buffalo.