WASHINGTON -- After missing 11 games with an upper-body injury, the Carolina Hurricanes have been patiently waiting for left winger Jeff Skinner to lead them back into the Metropolitan Division playoff race.
On Tuesday night against the division rival Washington Capitals, Skinner was united with center Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu and did just that, scoring two goals in a 4-1 rout at the Verizon Center.
"He was off to a great start this year and then he got hurt," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "Now he's starting to get in a groove again. He's a goal scorer and if you give him a chance he's going to score. He's going into those tough areas again to create those opportunities and that's a big plus for us."
Skinner gave the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead midway through the second period before defenseman Andrej Sekera and center Jiri Tlusty doubled that lead with goals that chased Washington goaltender Braden Holtby after 40 minutes.
Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters stopped 26 of 27 shots for his fifth win of the season, while Holtby stopped 19 of 23 shots to fall to 12-9-1.
Defenseman Mike Green scored the only goal for the Capitals, ending the longest goal-less drought of his career at 24 games.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Hurricanes (11-12-5), who moved within three points of the second-place Capitals (14-12-2), who have 30 points.
"We took them too lightly, I think," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "...And that's bad on us. We took them way too lightly."
The Hurricanes won each of the first two meetings between the teams, who play three more times this season.
"This is a huge win for us to stay in the pack," Muller said. "It's a game we have to build on because we've got some road games in December."
The Hurricanes entered the game having lost six of their previous eight games (2-5-1) but a little good fortune went a long way for Skinner.
The Hurricanes' first pick of the 2010 draft (seventh overall), Skinner netted his fifth goal of the season midway through the first period when he squeezed a shot just inside the near post.
The period ended with Carolina holding that 1-0 lead but three goals in a span of 3:44 broke the game open in the second period.
Skinner started the avalanche with a wide-angle shot that beat Holtby high to his stick side.
Skinner's two-goal game was his first of the season. He has never recorded a hat trick in his four-year NHL career, but that didn't stop his two new linemates from trying.
"They kept trying to find me for that third one," Skinner said. "I didn't want it, I guess. We got off to that good start and we kept building from there."
Sekera gave the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead on the power play, hammering a point shot that deflected off the shin pad of Capitals defenseman John Carlson and past Holtby at the 14:09 mark.
Less than a minute later, Tlusty backhanded a shot high into the left corner of the net for his fourth goal of the season and a 4-0 lead.
Holtby played the remainder of the period but was replaced by rookie goalie Philipp Grubauer, who stopped all nine shots in the third period.
"The first one for sure I think Holts would like back," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "I don't think it was Braden's best night."
Green drew the Capitals within 4-1 with a power-play goal 6:39 into the third period, blasting a pass from left winger Alex Ovechkin inside the right post. The goal came on Green's 65th shot of the season.
NOTES: Carolina RW Alex Semin sat out his sixth straight game with a concussion. A former teammate of Capitals captain LW Alex Ovechkin, Semin has three goals and six assists in 20 games this season. He had 197 goals in seven seasons with the Capitals. "I asked him a couple times how he's feeling once he got hurt," Ovechkin said. "You always want to be healthy because you want to be in game shape. When you get hurt like that you can't do nothing for like two or three weeks and your body gets a little fat." ... The Hurricanes and Flyers are the only two teams in the Metropolitan Division that Washington will play five times this season. The Hurricanes won the first meeting 3-2 on Oct. 10 at Washington. The two teams play again on Dec. 20 in Raleigh, N.C. ... The Hurricanes' five short-handed goals are tied for the NHL lead. RW Patrick Dwyer has two, while C Eric Staal, LW Nathan Gerbe and D Andrej Sekera have one each. ... The Capitals are off until Saturday when the Nashville Predators pay a visit. The Hurricanes are back in action Thursday night when they visit Nashville.