WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals finished off a month's worth of role reversal Thursday night, winning their sixth straight and extending the Carolina Hurricanes' losing streak to seven with a 3-1 victory.
Troy Brouwer and Mike Green scored second-period goals, Brouwer added an empty-netter and Braden Holtby made 43 saves for the Southeast Division leaders almost one month to the day after their playoff hopes appeared buried following a shutout loss to the then-surging Hurricanes.
Jeff Skinner scored in the first period, and Justin Peters had 28 stops for the Hurricanes, who now trail the Capitals by 12 points - an incredible 22-point swing from March 12, when Carolina beat Washington 4-0 at the Verizon Center.
It's almost impossible to exaggerate the turnaround. The 4-0 loss was Washington's third straight - all by a three-goal margin or greater - and Nicklas Backstrom said the effort wasn't good enough, calling the team's play "embarrassing." Carolina's Joe Corvo said the Capitals appeared to be lacking confidence.
It went from bad to worse for Washington, albeit temporarily, two days later when the Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead in a rematch in Raleigh.
But the Capitals rallied for a 3-2 win and have been nearly indestructible since. The victory started a 12-3-1 surge for Washington, while the loss kicked off a 1-13-1 dive for injury-depleted Carolina, the two teams passing each other in opposite directions at whiplash speed.
For 10 minutes on Thursday, it actually looked as though the Hurricanes were the playoff-bound team fending off the also-rans. Carolina was outshooting Washington 14-0 until Peters was finally tested by Alex Ovechkin's slap shot on a power play with 9:55 left in the first period.
The Hurricanes were able to get only one goal out of it, however, and it came on a 4-on-3 power play. Eric Staal's shot from the right circle yielded a juicy rebound for Skinner to give Carolina the lead.
Jay Harrison nearly made it 2-0 with a slap shot that actually beat Holtby in the final minute of the period, but defenseman John Carlson cleared the puck off the line after it trickled between the goalie's legs.
It wasn't long before the Capitals were again the dominant team, and their shots tally caught up to Carolina's by midway through the second period. Mike Ribeiro set up Brouwer for a one-timer from the right circle during a power play, and Mike Green skated in and scored from nearly the same spot with a wrister high to Peters' stick side.
It was left to Holtby to hold the lead and the goalie was tested often in the third period, his last tough save coming when he used his stick to deflect Jiri Tlusty's blast in the final 2 minutes.