Staff photo by Chris Seward
RALEIGH — Talk about a badly needed and well-earned victory.
The Carolina Hurricanes outlasted the Washington Capitals 3-1 Sunday night at the RBC Center, giving Paul Maurice his first victory as coach in his second stint behind the bench and closing the gap on the Southeast Division leaders.
Eric Staal's goal with 4:09 left gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead. Ray Whitney then added a third goal -- his second of the game -- to seal a victory that trimmed the Caps' lead in the division to four points and ended a three-game losing streak.
"This hockey club has had an emotional week," Maurice said. "It's had a lot going on around it."
The Canes fired a coach, Peter Laviolette, brought in Maurice and lost two games. On Saturday, Jeff Carter fired in the winner off a faceoff in overtime as the Flyers beat the Canes 2-1.
Canes goaltender Michael Leighton, beaten on Carter's shot, had a season-high 38 saves Sunday. The biggest: stopping the Caps' Alex Ovechkin on a penalty shot with 1.2 seconds left in the second and the Canes leading 1-0.
"He played great. We knew it would be very difficult to beat him," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of Leighton. "We thought if we could get one by him and push it in to overtime, we'd be fine."
Staal scored off a Sergei Samsonov pass from behind the goal, beating goalie Jose Theodore at the post with a wraparound shot, and Whitney slapped in a shot from the slot to finish it off.
The Hurricanes took a 1-0 lead on Whitney's goal off a rebound of a Joni Pitkanen shot. It was the first time in 13 games the Canes had scored the game's first goal.
The Caps tied the score 1-1 on a power-play goal at 8:28 of the third. Nicklas Backstrom scored from the right circle on a pass from Ovechkin.
The goal came seconds after the Canes killed off 52 seconds of a two-man Caps advantage.
Leighton then stopped Ovechkin on the penalty shot. With the Canes on a power play, Ovechkin wound up with the puck on a breakaway and short-handed attempt. Pitkanen was called for hooking as he tried to stop Ovechkin from behind.
Ovechkin tried to fake out Leighton stick side and then beat him glove side but had little on the shot. He's 0-5 in his career on penalty shots.
"I'll be the last one to give him advice on how to score," Boudreau said. "All I knowis if it doesn't work, don't do it again."
The Caps dominated play most of the second period, keeping the puck in the Carolina zone. The Canes had few scoring chances, although Joe Corvo and Rod Brind'Amour did hit the post with shots.
After missing four games with a groin injury, Canes forward Scott Walker was back in the lineup. ... Defenseman Anton Babchuk left the game with an arm injury in the third and had his arm in a sling after the game.
"The most dangerous job in America is playing defense for the Carolina Hurricanes right now," said Maurice, who was not sure how seriously Babchuk was injured. "We've got guys dropping all over."