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Skinner's hat trick helps Hurricanes to OT victory

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- Carolina Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner was one of the hottest players in the NHL in December with a league-high 12 goals.

He started off the New Year exactly where he left off, scoring a hat trick, including the game-winner in overtime, in the Hurricanes' 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

"Goal scorers can go on streaks and he's certainly on a nice streak," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "You give him the opportunity and he's certainly going to capitalize."

Skinner scored two goals in regulation and netted his third of the game 1:20 into the extra period when he converted a 3-on-1, tapping a perfect cross-ice feed from defenseman Ryan Murphy past Capitals rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

"It's a great pass," Skinner said after his second hat trick of the season. "He sort of threads it through [Mike Green's] legs. A great play by him."

The win was the second in a row for the Hurricanes (16-16-9), who had won just two of their previous 10 games.

It also moved the Hurricanes within five points of the Capitals, who lost for the fifth time in six games (1-2-3).

"At the end of the day, we have [two] points in our last three games," Caps winger Troy Brouwer said, "and it's not good enough in a tight division."

Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin turned aside 38 shots for the win. He was making his first start since Oct. 13. Grubauer stopped 29 shots in his third straight loss.

After a relatively quiet first period in which the Hurricanes took a 1-0 lead on a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Skinner, both teams showed their offensive firepower in the second period, scoring five goals in a span of 4:34.

"I don't want to say bad words," Khudobin said, "but sometimes it happens."

The Capitals started the game with right winger Alex Ovechkin on a four-game scoring drought and playing on the second line. Ovechkin began the second-period barrage 49 seconds in when he rumbled down the right wing, used defenseman Ron Hainsey as a screen and pumped a shot high over Khudobin's glove for his league-best 31st goal of the season.

The Canes regained the lead 55 seconds later when center Manny Malhotra went top shelf on Grubauer for his third goal of the season. The Caps responded at 3:02 when Brouwer, promoted to the top line in place of Ovechkin, backhanded a Nicklas Backstrom rebound under the crossbar for his ninth goal of the season.

Just 38 seconds later, Ovechkin was awarded a penalty shot when Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk hauled him down on a breakaway. Ovechkin ran out of room on his deke attempt and Khudobin poke-checked it away to leave the Capitals captain 2-of-9 in career shootout attempts.

The miss didn't seem to deter the Capitals, who grabbed their first lead of the game at 3:54 when defenseman Steve Oleksy skated around the Carolina net, came out the other side and found an opening inside the left post for his second goal of the season.

Washington's lead lasted just 44 seconds.

Skinner tied the score at 3-3 when Murphy's slap shot bounced off Grubauer, through the legs of Capitals center Martin Erat and onto his stick. He hammered a shot past Grubauer for his second goal of the game and team-high 18th of the season.

It marked the 22nd time this season the Capitals have allowed an opponent to score within 2:30 of scoring their own goal.

"It's been a problem, for sure," Brouwer said. "It's been something we've been trying to address. We just can't get the mindset to make smart plays and get the puck deep. We're turning pucks over, we're making mistakes. Maybe we just get a little too excited after scoring goals."

NOTES: D John-Michael Liles, who was acquired by the Hurricanes for D Tim Gleason just before taking the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic, played in his first game for Carolina and was paired with D Ryan Murphy. Hurricanes LW Brett Sutter was recalled from the Charlotte Checkers before the game and played on a third line with Drayson Bowman and Tuomo Ruutu. ... LW Brooks Laich returned to the lineup for the Capitals after missing 14 of the previous 15 games with groin-related pain. ... Capitals D John Carlson received a standing ovation when he was recognized for being selected to the U.S. Olympic team. He is the first Capitals player named to Team USA for the Olympics. Carolina D Justin Faulk was also chosen for the team. ... The Capitals are back in action Saturday when they visit the Minnesota Wild. It's the first time they will leave the Eastern time zone since they played in Colorado on Nov. 10. ... The Hurricanes conclude their two-game road trip in Uniondale, N.Y., where they will face the Islanders on Saturday.

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