The Hurricanes overcame a pair of one-goal deficits Thursday night to beat the Capitals 3-2 at Verizon Center in a game that was every bit as contentious as their battles in their pre-realignment setup. Both teams were moved to the Metropolitan Division when the League went from six divisions to four as part of realignment.
"We enjoy that," Carolina captain Eric Staal said of the combativeness in a game that saw each team take seven penalties and receive five power plays. "It's a battle when we play these guys. It's competitive. You remember those moments where they got the better of you and you want to make sure that that's not going to be the case anymore."
Nathan Gerbe broke a 2-2 tie when he scored his third goal of the season 6:59 into the third period to give Carolina its first lead of the game. The League's shortest player at 5-foot-5 had no reservations about venturing to the front of the net, and he was rewarded when he took advantage of a failed clearing attempt by John Carlson. Braden Holtby made a save on Justin Faulk's shot, but John Erskine could not handle Carlson's clearing try, and Gerbe capitalized.
"He's doing a lot of things well without the puck," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said of Gerbe. "He competes and he works and he's really worked for his goals so far [this season] and it was a huge one tonight."
The Capitals played shorthanded for 7:09 and felt that the time they spent killing penalties kept their top offensive players from getting into a rhythm.
"It hurts a few of our guys," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "A guy like [defenseman Mike Green], who hasn't been playing too much penalty kill, it hurts him a lot. Guys like Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] too. The guys that are on the kill, it's easy for them to get into the game, but it's tough for the rest of the guys, so we don't want to see that."
The Capitals, playing their first game since Saturday, twice took one-goal leads only to see the Hurricanes get even.
The Capitals peppered Anton Khudobin (30 saves) early in the first period, forcing him to make some high-quality stops, but it was a harmless-looking shot by Jason Chimera that eluded him at 5:33 to give Washington a 1-0 lead.
Khudobin made the initial save on Eric Fehr's wrister from just inside the red line, but paddled out a long rebound. Chimera outraced the defense, grabbed the puck in the left circle and threw a shot at the net that beat Khudobin for his first goal of the season.
The teams then combined for three goals in a 3:16 span of the second period, leaving the game tied 2-2 after 40 minutes.
Elias Lindholm , the fifth player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, scored the first goal of his NHL career at 12:58, corralling a loose puck at the point, curling to his forehand and throwing a shot at the net that deflected off Carlson's skate and fluttered past Holtby's outstretched glove.
Alex Ovechkin responded with a deflection goal of his own less than a minute later. Ovechkin's stick grazed Steve Oleksy's slap shot from the point, and the puck took an odd carom off the ice before dribbling past Khudobin at 13:52.
It was Ovechkin's fifth of the season; he has goals in each of his first four games, the first time he's accomplished that feat.
Carolina tied it at 16:14 during a 5-on-3 power play. With Joel Ward and Erskine in the penalty box, the Hurricanes worked the puck around until Eric Staal fed Alexander Semin for a one-time blast past Holtby from the left circle. Semin's first goal against the Capitals at Verizon Center since signing with the Hurricanes in the summer of 2012 was met by a hearty round of boos from the sellout crowd of 18,506.
The Capitals, who rebounded from a 2-8-1 start last season to win the last Southeast Division title, now find themselves at 1-3-0 -- the one win was a 5-4 shootout victory against the Calgary Flames in which they had to overcome a three-goal deficit.
"I don't think it's time to push the panic button yet," coach Adam Oates said. "I really thought it was a pretty good hockey game. I really did. Obviously, you don't want to lose them, but the more you show up and play like that for 60 minutes, you're going to win your share."