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Pro hockey: Capitals don’t heed Hunter’s words

COACH’S PLEA TO LIMIT GAFFES FALLS

ON DEAF EARS AS HURRICANES TRIUMPH IN OVERTIME

BY ZAC BOYER

WASHINGTON—As the same mistakes continue to be made by the Washington Capitals, the same result continues to occur.

Doomed through their last three games by odd-man rushes and an inability to play transition defense, the Capitals stumbled again Tuesday at the Verizon Center, allowing a late-overtime goal by rookie Justin Faulk as Carolina emerged with a 4–3 victory.

It was the third loss in as many games for Washington (32–28–6), which could have turned a series of victories over a season-long five-game homestand into significant momentum as it prepares for a playoff push.

Instead, the Capitals have now lost their last three with one game remaining in that homestand, and though the one point gained from an overtime loss was better than none, a sense of worry is beginning to set in as the season enters its final month.

“It’s coming down to the wire,” said Jay Beagle, who scored his first goal of the season in the second period. “These games—we can’t let [them] slip. It’s desperation hockey.”

The winner, Faulk’s eighth goal of the season, epitomized the mistakes by the Capitals. Despite coach Dale Hunter’s plea to eliminate turnovers and make smart reads in transition, Marcus Johanson lost control of the puck on the attack, with Brandon Sutter heading the other way with it, crossing it in front of Mike Green and allowing Faulk to flush it over Michal Neuvirth’s right shoulder with 1:22 left in the extra period.

The goal was similar to the one Carolina (25–27–14) scored on a breakaway 1:45 into the third period—one by Sutter that, at the time, put the Hurricanes up 3–2. The Capitals attacked Carolina goalie Cam Ward, who had 46 saves, but a rebound that was swept out of the crease caromed off Washington’s Brooks Laich and defenseman Dennis Wideman, waiting at the blue line, fanned on an attempt to stop the bouncing puck.

Sutter took it the length of the ice and beat Neuvirth stick-side with the backhand for his 14th goal of the season.

“You can’t have them rush chances like they had and that’s what they had tonight,” Hunter said. “Neuvy had to be real good, because when they did get a chance, it was right down home plate.”

Laich scored the tying goal, his 12th, with 2:52 to play in the third period on a give-and-go with Johansson. Most of the action, though, occurred in the second, where the Capitals squandered a 2–0 lead built by Troy Brouwer’s first-period goal and Beagle’s 4:11 in by allowing one to the Hurricanes’ Jiri Tlusty just 40 seconds later.

Chad LaRose tied the score at 2–2 four minutes after that, and the intensity of the tie game began to affect both teams. Carolina’s Jeff Skinner and the Capitals’ Dmitry Orlov battled for a loose puck in the Hurricanes’ end a little over 12 minutes in, causing Orlov to take an awkward-looking fall into the boards.

Wideman was called for goalie interference not long after, and Orlov and Skinner began to go at it after the whistle. Officials tried to restrain the two, but Orlov shoved one of them, drawing a 10-minute misconduct penalty that could result in a suspension.

Orlov, a Russian who speaks little English, left the locker room shortly after the game, slamming a door on the way. Skinner denied any wrongdoing on the check.

“He tried to come and hit me and he slipped,” Skinner said. “There’s not much I can do there. If he tries to step back and hit me, I can’t do much. I can’t sort of wrap my arms around him and protect him if he slips.”

Neuvirth, making his season-high sixth consecutive start, stopped 32 shots, including two power play opportunities. The Capitals were 0-for-1 on the power play, running their streak to 0-for-14 since Feb. 22 at Ottawa, and 2-for-35 over their last 12 games.

The Hurricanes’ Eric Staal, who assisted on Tlusty’s goal, ran his streak of consecutive games with an assist to 11, breaking a Hartford/Carolina franchise record that dated to 1979. And now Washington, which won the first three games in the series, lost its last three against the division rival.

The last time the Capitals hosted Carolina, on Jan. 15, their victory put them atop the Southeast Division. Now with only 16 games left, Washington is four points from division-leading Florida—and six from the Hurricanes and the basement.

“This time of year you can’t judge yourself by your intentions, it’s by your results,” Laich said. “I don’t know. It’s a game we had to have. It’s tough to take right now. But we have to move on.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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