By Dan Pieringer
Washington (45-22-6) at Carolina (38-28-7) 7:00 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) -- The Washington Capitals have
experienced continued success on the road thanks in part to Alex
Ovechkin's prolific scoring.
The Capitals might need another strong outing from the NHL's top
scorer to keep the hot streak going in Raleigh.
In a matchup of Southeast Division teams battling for playoff
position, Ovechkin and the Capitals look for another strong
effort away from home Saturday night when they visit the
Carolina Hurricanes, winners of seven straight at the RBC
Washington has recorded a point in 10 of its last 11 road games,
going 8-1-2 in that stretch. Ovechkin helped extend the run of
road success with his league-leading 50th goal in a 5-2 victory
at Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
Ovechkin, who also had two assists, scored 7:43 into the first
period to become Washington's first three-time 50-goal scorer.
"It feels pretty good actually," the 23-year-old Russian star
said. "Today was a lucky goal, I think. It's done right now. No
Ovechkin might feel less pressure with that milestone out of the
way, but the Capitals' work isn't done. Washington's 13-point
lead over Carolina atop the Southeast appears safe, but the
Capitals are one point behind New Jersey for second in the
Eastern Conference and four behind frontrunning Boston.
Making up ground could be tough against a Hurricanes team that's
won seven straight in Raleigh to improve to 21-13-1 there this
season. Carolina hasn't had a longer home winning streak since
notching nine consecutive victories from December 31,
2005-January 28, 2006, en route to the franchise's lone Stanley
Carolina is also 8-2-1 over its last 11 home games against
Washington, though the teams have split two meetings at the RBC
Center in 2008-09.
The Hurricanes' home streak appeared to be in jeopardy Friday
night. They blew a 2-0 first-period lead by giving up four
straight goals in the second before rallying to beat the New
York Islanders, 5-4.
Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose scored third-period goals - the
second of the game for each players - as Carolina prevailed
despite being outworked for much of the game.
"If we learned anything, it was that we can't take a lapse for
10, 15 minutes in a game," said winger Ray Whitney, who had
three assists. "If we do that against Washington, it's not 4-2,
it's 6-2. This gave us a little bit of humbling. We realized
we're only as good as how hard we work."
Friday's victory put the Hurricanes in sixth place in the East,
one point ahead of the New York Rangers and two in front of
Montreal. Whitney said the postseason chase is reason enough for
the Hurricanes to avoid any more problems with their effort.
"We just look at the board over there and realize where we are,"
Whitney has been Carolina's key to success against Washington
this season. The veteran was held scoreless as the Hurricanes
dropped the first two meetings in the series, but he's totaled
three goals and four assists to lead them to two wins and a
shootout loss in the last three.
Ovechkin has two goals and eight assists in five games against
Carolina this season. If he scores Saturday, he might avoid
turning to one of his sometimes theatrical celebrations.
Ovechkin reacted to Friday's goal by putting his stick on the
ice and pretending to warm his hands over it. Lightning coach
Rick Tocchet was upset about the unsportsmanlike display, and
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he planned to speak to
Ovechkin about it.