Coming off an emphatic win at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the Hurricanes traveled to the U.S. capital on a four-game win streak. They hung six goals on a former Vezina winner to keep their post-Christmas tirade going at full speed. To finish their road trip, the Canes needed to find a way to get another two big points against a division opponent.
Both the Hurricanes and Capitals came into the game with injury and illness issues. Jesper Fast was set to miss his second straight game, while Stefan Noesen (illness) and Martin Necas (upper-body injury) would both miss the game, too. Brendan Lemieux would remain in the lineup, and Tony DeAngelo saw his first action since the Canes hosted the Caps in December. Vasily Ponomarev, who was called up before the game, made it just in time to make his NHL debut. The Capitals were without TJ Oshie, Sonny Milano, Rasmus Sandin, and Charlie Lindgren for the game. Pyotr Kochetkov and Darcy Kuemper would get the starts for their respective teams.
While the Canes have been tearing it up lately, the Capitals took it to them in the first period. Nic Dowd got the early icebreaker after Nicolas Aube-Kubel won a battle in the corner, and Dowd worked around a poke check to bury it. Late in the period, Jesperi Kotkaniemi took an offensive zone penalty, allowing the Capitals to score on the power play. Alex Ovechkin faked a one-timer, finding Dylan Strome for an easy tap-in from the top of the crease to make it 2-0, where it would stand going into the intermission.
In the second period, the Hurricanes' game started to shine through. The Canes finally broke through Darcy Kuemper early in the period. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov worked hard in the corner to win a battle, allowing Svechnikov to find Brent Burns alone at the front of the net to cut the deficit in half. The rest of the period went without much more action, giving the Canes 20 minutes to find the tying goal.
Washington came out of the intermission and hemmed the Canes in their defensive zone for a long time. Pyotr Kochetkov and his defense didn't break. This effort allowed them to draw even, with a little help from the returning Dmitry Orlov. In his first game in Washington since being traded to Boston last season, Orlov carried the puck behind the net, taking some contact to make a play. He left the puck for Vasily Ponomarev, who found Seth Jarvis at the side of the net. Jarvis' shot took a minute, but it eventually trickled through Darcy Kuemper to tie the game and get Ponomarev his first career point.
After the Canes tied it, Pyotr Kochetkov made two huge stops on Anthony Mantha and Alexei Protas to keep it 2-2. The power play would get a chance to work with less than eight minutes left in regulation, and they wouldn't need long to score. Sebastian Aho fed Andrei Svechnikov for a one-timer very similar to the one he scored at MSG to give the Canes their first lead. During the ensuing celebration, Evgeny Kuznetsov would get called for slashing Michael Bunting, allowing them to immediately get back to work on the power play. This time, Svechnikov fed Brent Burns for his second of the night. In the blink of an eye, the Canes had taken a two-goal lead.
As time winded down, Jaccob Slavin took a rare penalty, giving the Capitals a chance to draw closer. After the penalty kill did a great job of preventing Washington from setting up, Dmitry Orlov fired the puck nearly 200 feet into the empty net to ice the game away. However, it wouldn't be the last goal. Vasily Ponomarev ended the game with exactly what the script called for. He stripped a defender of the puck in the neutral zone before burying a pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi for his first NHL goal as the Canes scored six unanswered goals in a 6-2 win.
There were many storylines entering this game. Almost all of them ended positively in this win. Dmitry Orlov had two points in his return to Washington. Vasily Ponomarev recorded two points in his NHL debut. Andrei Svechnikov extended his multi-point game streak to six. All-Star Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to six games with three assists. Brent Burns kept his hot streak going with two goals and three points. The power play scored two huge goals, and the penalty kill got a huge late stop. All of this culminated in the Canes winning their fifth straight game.
This is another perfect example of players stepping up in tough situations to help the greater good. Vasily Ponomarev wasn't going to be in the lineup 24 hours ago. He didn't get on a plane to D.C. until six hours before the puck dropped. Brendan Lemieux has also played two good games since jumping into the lineup following Jesper Fast's injury. The team went 11/7, yet it felt like every forward contributed. Pyotr Kochetkov wasn't busy for most of the night, and while neither goal was on him, he didn't let it sink the team's chances of winning. He made huge stops in the final 40 minutes, picking up his 11th win of the season.
The Hurricanes will turn around and play again on Saturday night at PNC Arena against the St. Louis Blues. This game kicks off six straight games at home over the next 15 days. What the lineup will look like remains to be seen, but I hope they keep things relatively close to what they were in D.C. The Canes will look to extend their win streak before getting four days off between games.