RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Josef Vasicek was all over the ice Monday night, handling the puck, deftly finding open teammates and blocking shots. His 24 shifts included time on the power play and the penalty kill, and he even won his only faceoff.
So much for easing back into the lineup.
“After five months, spending time on the bike, it was just something special,” the big Czech center said.
Vasicek had two goals and two assists in his return from injury, Ray Whitney scored on a power play in overtime and the Carolina Hurricanes edged the Washington Capitals 6-5 Monday night in the first of three consecutive games between the teams.
The game featured 90 minutes in penalties—including four fights—and Washington defenseman Nolan Yonkman was ejected in the second period for jumping into a scrum already in progress. It should make the games Wednesday and Friday a little more interesting.
“Good hockey game in the sense that there was good physical play in it and to see a good scrap or two is pretty exciting,” Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. “Nobody left after the first one, did they?”
Whitney also finished with two goals, and Rod Brind’Amour added his 30th of the season.
“They’re a very competitive team,” Whitney said. “We’re getting ready for the playoffs, and we want to be strong on our sticks and feisty.”
Vasicek took the ice for his first game since Nov. 11, when he injured his knee against the Florida Panthers. He missed 59 games after surgery before he began practicing early last month, and any worries about the knee giving him trouble went away early.
He played 15 minutes to get the first four-point game of his five-year NHL career under the watchful eye of coach Peter Laviolette.
“When the game was going, I was warmer and warmer,” Vasicek said. “He kept looking at me, like, ‘Is the knee all right?’ He did a great job with that. The knee felt good, and it was a great feeling to be out there.”
Justin Williams, who played on a line with Vasicek and Brind’Amour, had a goal and two assists to help Carolina win for only the fourth time in nine games.
The Capitals rallied from a 4-2 deficit with two quick goals in the first 3 minutes of the third period. Rico Fata got the first by stuffing in a rebound before Jeff Halpern used a nifty pass from Chris Clark to beat Carolina goaltender Martin Gerber.
Washington had won three straight against the Hurricanes.
“It was a very entertaining game,” Fata said. “Both sides played really well and we’ve been playing really good against them lately. Obviously, they wanted to have a good game against us.”
Vasicek gave the Hurricanes the lead again about 6 1/2 minutes later. Williams took a shot from the right circle that Olaf Kolzig kicked away, but the rebound went straight to Vasicek across the ice. His slap shot went into the open net before Kolzig could recover.
But Washington again came back. With Eric Staal in the penalty box for hooking, Fata got another goal for his second of the season.
“Those are the types of situations where you get opportunities and you cash in on it,” Hanlon said. “Who knows what that will be a springboard to? He’s got a great shot. He had an opportunity.”
The Hurricanes twice rallied from one goal down and got three unanswered scores in the second period, all from Brind’Amour’s line. With Washington ahead 2-1, Williams chased down Vasicek’s shot behind the net and fed the puck in front to Brind’Amour.
He easily got it past Kolzig to tie it, and the first fight occurred on the ensuing faceoff when Halpern and Staal got tangled. When it was done, Halpern went to the penalty box and Staal headed to the locker room for five stitches over his left eye, a souvenir from his first NHL fight.
“He tried to butt into me with the stick, and I didn’t like that,” Staal said. “Then both of our sticks kind of got up in the air. I’m not sure if he cut me before we started, or if he hit me. He hit me with one.”
Vasicek later gave Carolina its first lead with a fortuitous shot from the right circle that skidded through Kolzig’s leg, his first goal since Oct. 28. Williams made it 4-2 by pouncing on the rebound from Frantisek Kaberle’s shot.
“The first two periods, I really liked the way we played,” Laviolette said. “We had to fight and claw, it didn’t seem like it was bouncing our way. The guys went back to work.”
The Hurricanes, who have lost 247 games to injuries this season, actually had two healthy scratches, with D Anton Babchuk and RW Chad LaRose not dressing. … Washington completed a seven-game road trip—its longest of the season—with a 3-1-3 mark. … Carolina improved to 30-0-2 when leading after the second period.