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Capitals win seventh straight as Hurricanes contine fall

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals are refusing to have their playoff fate determined by anyone but themselves.

Led by second-period goals from Troy Brouwer and Mike Green and 43 saves from goaltender Braden Holtby, the Capitals squeezed out a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Verizon Center.

It marked Washington's seventh straight victory as Brouwer completed the scoring with an empty-netter with 5.4 seconds to play.

Since taking the Southeast Division lead on April 4, the Caps have won four straight games but have had no more than a two-point lead on the Winnipeg Jets, who remained two points back with a 7-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

"We obviously know where we stand and how important it is to win every night," Green said. "We can't have a slip-up here at all. That's the bottom line. We addressed that even during the game. We knew how important this game was."

The Capitals are now 10-1-1 in their past 12 games and have won 13 of their 16 games within the Southeast Division.

The Hurricanes' freefall has been epic.

Since leading the division with a 15-9-1 record on March 13, Carolina has gone 1-13-1. In those 15 games, the Hurricanes' 10-point lead over the Capitals has turned into a 12-point deficit. Carolina's losing streak is up to seven games.

"The guys played hard," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "They were battling, competing, playing well. We're just not getting results. You can't ask for more than that level of competition. They stuck to the game plan for 60 minutes and we just fell short again. We had no passengers tonight. Everybody played hard."

The Hurricanes did a nice job of shutting out Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals' red-hot top line, but a three-minute flurry midway through the second period was the difference.

The Hurricanes swarmed the Capitals in the game's opening 10 minutes, outshooting them 14-0 and taking a 1-0 lead on Jeff Skinner's 11th goal of the season at the 5:01 mark.

Skinner, who had 51 goals in his first two NHL seasons, entered the game with just one goal in his past 15 games. However, with the Canes on the man advantage, he turned a generous rebound of an Eric Staal shot into his fourth power-play goal of the season.

Holtby settled in after the early barrage, stopping Alex Semin from the slot, Chad LaRose from the circle and Kevin Westgarth from the high slot to keep the Capitals within one goal. He also got a little help from defenseman John Carlson, who, with 52 seconds remaining in the opening period, swiped away a shot by Jay Harrison that trickled through Holtby's pads and was headed toward the open cage.

"When you see guys do that," Holtby said, "you want to be there even more for them if they make a mistake."

The Capitals short-circuited two of their own power plays when Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro each took high-sticking penalties less than 10 seconds into the advantages, but the two forwards redeemed themselves by connecting on a power play 8:08 into the second period.

Ribeiro found Brouwer unguarded in the right circle, and Brouwer beat Justin Peters between the pads for his 14th goal of the season and his first in seven games.

"Obviously, we don't have only one option on the power play," said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who picked up his 12th assist in six games on Brouwer's goal. "We have a couple different looks."

The Caps grabbed the lead less than three minutes later when defenseman Green cruised down the right wing and beat Peters with a perfect shot under the left crossbar.

The goal was Green's ninth of the season and seventh since returning from a groin injury 12 games ago.

"As soon I lifted my head I saw that was open," Green said. "It seems to be working lately, so I shot there."

Peters, who finished with 28 saves, said the Canes have vowed to fight to the finish in their final seven games.

"We're all going to keep fighting and keep learning until we get better results," he said.

NOTES: Washington forwards Brooks Laich, Joel Ward and Martin Erat sat out with lower-body injuries. Ward and Erat are hoping to return on Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Capitals. Laich reportedly is contemplating sports hernia surgery. ... Carolina goaltender Cam Ward missed his 19th straight game with a torn knee ligament. The Canes were 12-8-1 before Ward's injury, and they are 4-14-1 since he left the lineup. ... LaRose played in his 500th NHL game, all with the Hurricanes. ... The Canes' top line of Staal, former Capital Semin and Jiri Tlusty combined for 12 points in the first four meetings between the two teams. ... The Capitals play five of their final seven games at home. ... The Hurricanes return to action Saturday, at home against the Boston Bruins.
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