RALEIGH, N.C. — The Washington Capitals clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by rallying for a 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Thursday.
“It’s awesome, we’re so excited,” Capitals forward Jakub Vrana said. “It’s going to be great to be in a playoff spot again.”
Washington (46-24-8), the defending Stanley Cup champion, leads the Metropolitan Division by three points over the New York Islanders.
“The more you play, the more you realize seeding doesn’t matter,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “Your goal is to make the playoffs. We’re supposed to make the playoffs; maybe we take it a bit for granted. We’ve been lucky to have good teams. Every team is close.”
Carolina (42-28-7) remained one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens for the first wild card in the Eastern Conference; Montreal has played one more game.
“It hurts tons, I mean obviously it was a tough loss,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “The guys are devastated in there, they know what is at stake. I thought they gave everything they had. We will regroup tomorrow and come back at it. If we play like that for the remaining games, we will be in good shape.”
Nic Dowd tipped Nick Jensen‘s shot from the right-side boards at 15:04 of the third to put Washington ahead 3-2 after Vrana took a pass through the neutral zone from Evgeny Kuznetsov and scored five-hole to tie it 2-2 at 1:35.
“It wasn’t pretty and I didn’t even know it went in,” Dowd said of the game-winning goal. “I just got there, and good timing I guess. Jensen getting it to the net was a good play.”
Nino Niederreiter gave Carolina a 1-0 lead at 4:31 of the first period. After he was forced wide of the net by Holtby, Niederreiter reached from behind the net to tuck the puck inside the right post.
Brett Connolly tied it 1-1 at 5:13. Skating with the puck on a 2-on-1, he cut to the slot a scored on a high wrist shot.
“There weren’t a lot of backcheckers coming,” Connolly said. “It was good to get in the middle and get a good shot from a good area. I just tried to put it where I wanted, and it was good to see it go in.”
Warren Foegele carried the puck from Carolina’s blue line, cut past Jensen in the right face-off circle and scored at the top of the crease to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead at 12:30 of the second period.
Holtby made 24 saves, including a glove save on Niederreiter alone in the slot with 7:50 remaining in the third period.
“We need [Holtby] to be playing at a high level, and he’s extremely focused right now,” Connolly said. “You don’t get opportunities with a good team like this very often. He’s locked in and it’s good to see because he was obviously a big part of us winning the Cup last year.”
They said it
“We’ve given ourselves now an opportunity. You’re down 2-1 on the road, you get depth scoring. Our guys didn’t quit. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means. But we’ve stuck with it. That’s how this group has had success in the past in playoff hockey. That’s what it’s going to take.” — Capitals coach Todd Reirden
“Just a play here and there and we win that game. It definitely stings, but there’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to come back with a positive mindset that we’re just going to keep pushing forward. We’re in a good spot and we’ve got to remember that.” — Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook
Need to know
Washington forward Alex Ovechkin remained at 49 goals trying to become the third player in NHL history with at least eight 50-goal seasons. Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy each have nine. … The Capitals defeated the Hurricanes 4-1 at Washington on Tuesday. … The Capitals reached 100 points for a fifth straight season. … Holtby (30-19-5) has at least 30 wins five seasons in a row. … The Hurricanes were 0-for-1 and are 0-for-15 on the power-play in the past nine games. … Micheal Ferland has gone 12 games without a goal for Carolina; Sebastian Aho has gone nine games. … Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton played his 500th NHL game.
Capitals: At the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SUN, NBCSWA, NHL.TV)
Hurricanes: Host the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday (1:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-CR, NBCSP, NHL.TV)