WASHINGTON - The game had a slightly surreal feel to it.
Before the opening faceoff, there was Scott Walker lined up next to Ray Whitney — Walker in a red Washington Capitals sweater, Whitney in Carolina Hurricanes white. Soon after the faceoff, there was Joe Corvo trying to chase down Eric Staal — Corvo No. 77 for the Caps, Staal controlling the puck for the Canes.
A little more than a week ago, the four were together on the ice, trying to win games for the Hurricanes. A big trade day changed all that, creating new faces in the lineups and new rivals in the Southeast Division rivalry.
But in the end, it was about playing hockey. It also was about overtime before the Caps won 4-3 Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.
Tomas Fleischmann's goal with 1:40 left in overtime was the difference, as Fleischmann took a pass from Eric Belanger in the right circle and beat goaltender Manny Legace with a low shot that hugged the ice.
Mike Green had a pair of power-play goals, and Alexander Semin an early even-strength score for the Caps in regulation. The Canes answered with goals from Patrick Dwyer, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen in forcing a 3-3 tie after two periods, as the goaltenders, Legace and Jose Theodore of the Caps held strong in the third.
Walker and Corvo were traded by the Hurricanes to the Caps on March 3, the NHL trade deadline. The deal also brought defenseman Brian Pothier and prospect Oskar Osala to the Canes, and Osala was in the lineup after being recalled Wednesday from the Albany River Rats of the AHL to replace an ill Erik Cole.
Pothier said it would be awkward and a weird sensation facing off against his old team, the Eastern Conference leader. And so it had to be for Walker and Corvo, who helped the Canes reach the Eastern Conference finals last season.
The Caps were coming off a tasteless 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Monday that ended Washington's 13-game winning streak on home ice, a franchise record. But the Caps, who led 2-0 in that game, were 25-3-4 at the Verizon Center and not lost in regulation since a 6-3 loss on Dec. 28 -- to the Hurricanes.
Sure enough, the Caps grabbed another 2-0 lead. Semin, who always seems to torment the Canes, took a stretch pass, blew into the Carolina zone and backhanded a shot past Legace just 2:24 into the game.
Green's first power-play goal made it 2-0, but only after the Canes' Brandon Sutter failed on a penalty shot -- the result of a Green trip as Sutter roared in for a shorthanded try.
The Canes seemed outmatched to that point, especially on the back end. But Sutter's play, with some hustle from Chad LaRose on the penalty kill, energized the Hurricanes, who picked up the pace and kept up an aggressive forecheck.
Dwyer scored 18 seconds after Green's goal, banging a rebound past Theodore, and Ruutu's goal at 8:43 of the second tied the score 2-2. The Caps jumped back in front 3-2 on Green's second power-play goal, only to have Jokinen tie it again with a power-play score with 4:57 left in the second.
The goal, off an assist from Ruutu, was Jokinen's 27th and gave him goals in three straight games. It came after forward Zach Boychuk first had the puck stolen by Corvo, then was clipped by Walker near center ice.
The Canes began the third period on the power play but couldn't score, and Legace had a few adventures trying to handle the puck. Legace shut out the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday, but the Caps offer relentless offensive pressure.
Another Carolina power play early in the third, after a Semin slash, went for naught. Alex Picard and then Staal got off hard shots, but Theodore made the stops.
Theodore, hardly tested the first 18 minutes of the game, was forced to make some solid stops in the final two minutes of the first as the Canes put seven shots on goal. The Canes were a different team after Chad LaRose and Sutter teamed up off the penalty kill to get Sutter the shorthanded breakaway and penalty shot.
Having played the Eastern Conference leaders, the Hurricanes return home to complete the back-to-back — against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the No. 2 team in the East and the defending Stanley Cup champions..