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Earlier in the season, it appeared the Washington Capitals didn't have much of a chance in the Southeast Division. With less than 30 games remaining, they're right in the mix for the division title.
|Alex Ovechkin scored his 46th goal of the season Wednesday, matching last year's total. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)|
The Capitals opened this season 6-14-1, resulting in coach Glen Hanlon being fired on Thanksgiving Day. Bruce Boudreau, who was coaching Washington's top farm team, took over and has guided the Caps to a 20-10-4 record.
Washington (26-24-5) is now among four teams, including Carolina, within just a few points of each other for the top spot in the Southeast.
"We believe we're a real good team now," Boudreau said after Washington won 4-3 at Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia on Wednesday. "Individually, I think they believe they're a hard team to beat and that when they go on the ice they can win any game they play."
One individual who has excelled for Washington is Ovechkin, who scored his 46th goal of the season Wednesday, tying his total from 2006-07. The 22-year-old left wing, who scored 52 goals during his 2005-06 rookie season, has seven goals and one assist over his last four games.
Since the end of November, the Capitals are 12-3-3 when Ovechkin scores a goal. They have won 11 of their last 12 games when he has at least two points.
Washington is looking to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002-03, when it lost to Tampa Bay in the first round.
|Jean-Pierre Dumont scores the lone goal of Carolina's 1-0 loss to the Predators on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)|
"At Thanksgiving ... people had written us off," Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig said. "We had coach come in with a new philosophy and the guys seemed to respond real well. We just kept going."
Washington and Carolina (26-26-4) have split four meetings this season, with each team winning on its home ice. That's not good news for the Hurricanes, who enter this contest having lost the first two games of their five-game road trip.
Two days after a 4-1 defeat at Pittsburgh, Carolina lost 1-0 in Nashville on Tuesday.
The Hurricanes and the Predators were scoreless until J.P. Dumont scored at 11:59 of the third period for the game's only goal.
"For the most part, I think we played pretty strong defensively up until the goal in the third period," Carolina goalie Cam Ward said. "We can't afford to be giving up a three-on-one in a tied hockey game late in the third period."
Carolina has scored three of fewer goals in each of its last six games.
"I don't think anyone is going to be satisfied with the way things went," Ward said. "We've got to score goals and pay the price to get in front of the net to try to get those dirty goals."
Ovechkin has five goals and an assist in four games versus the Hurricanes this season, giving him 15 goals and nine assists in 20 career appearances against them.
The Hurricanes have lost four of their last five on the road while the Capitals have won eight of 10 at home. Carolina also has dropped three of its last four visits to Washington, getting outscored 14-5.