Hurricanes-Capitals Preview

The Associated Press

Some strong play at home over the last month is a big reason the Washington Capitals are closing in on the leader of the Southeast Division.

The Capitals can move into a tie for the division lead with a seventh consecutive home victory Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

With a 16-5-1 record at the Verizon Center, Washington (23-17-2) is tied with Boston for the most home victories in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals extended their season-high winning home streak to six games with a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay on Friday.

Troy Brouwer recorded his first career hat trick and Alex Ovechkin added his 18th goal as Washington won for the sixth time in eight games overall to pull within two points of division-leading Florida.

"We want to finish up well before the All-Star break," All-Star defenseman Dennis Wideman told the Capitals' official website.

Washington, which has not trailed at home since a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 13, has outscored opponents 19-7 during the six-game home run since that defeat.

"We're doing a real good job at home," said Brouwer, whose 14 goals are eight shy of his career high set with Chicago in 2009-10. "With our fans and with our building here, it's real easy to play at home."

The Capitals, however, were not happy about almost blowing a 3-0 lead Friday. The three goals Washington allowed were one fewer than it yielded in the previous five home contests.

"You always like to close them out, be sound defensively, and when they score late, no one's going to be happy about it,'' said coach Dale Hunter, 11-9-1 since he replaced the fired Bruce Boudreau. "It's a win, but everybody wants to be sound.''

Washington has won both meetings with Carolina (16-23-7) this season, including 4-3 in overtime at home Oct. 8. The Capitals are 8-0-3 against the Hurricanes since a 6-3 home defeat Dec. 28, 2009.

"We've got to put some distance between us and the teams behind us (in the division)," said Wideman, who has three goals and five assists in his last six games.

Brouwer had a goal with an assist in a 5-1 win at Carolina on Nov. 4. Ovechkin has 21 goals and 37 assists in 43 career games versus Carolina.

Washington's Tomas Vokoun has a 1.20 goals-against average while winning five straight at home, but backup Michal Neuvirth has stopped 52 of 56 shots in both wins over Carolina this season.

Carolina star Jeff Skinner, who has four assists against the Capitals in 2011-12, could possibly return Sunday after missing 16 games with a concussion. The 19-year-old forward has 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 games.

"We'll keep him out until we feel it's the right time," coach Kirk Muller said.

With or without Skinner, the Hurricanes look to match a season high with their third straight victory after beating Boston 4-2 at home Saturday. Jay Harrison scored the winner with 1:30 remaining as the Hurricanes rallied for three unanswered, third-period goals.

"I think we felt pretty good going into the game,'' said rookie defenseman Justin Faulk, who has three goals and three assists in his last eight games. "I think we're just looking to replicate that for a few more games.''

Carolina's Eric Staal, who has four goals and 10 assists in his last eight games, had two with an assist at Washington in October.