HURRICANES (16-23-7) at CAPITALS (23-17-2)
TV: FS-CR (HD), CSN-MA
Last 10: Carolina 5-4-1; Washington 6-3-1
Season Series: This is the third of six games between these Southeast division rivals. The Capitals have taken both meetings -- one at home and one on the road. In the first matchup on Oct. 8, Carolina forced overtime with a late third-period goal, but Mike Green scored 2:24 into OT to give the Caps a 4-3 win in their home opener. The game in Raleigh on Nov. 4 wasn’t nearly as close, as Cody Eakin notched his first NHL goal and assist in the Capitals’ 5-1 rout of the Hurricanes.
Big Story: After half a season, Washington is starting to look like the team it was expected to be. With a six-game winning streak at home and victories in six of their last eight overall, the Capitals are now just two points behind Florida for the top spot in the Southeast. They are looking to maintain a perfect homestand after back-to-back one-goal victories over Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay to begin a stretch of four straight at the Verizon Center.
Winners of two in a row, the Hurricanes are hoping this could be the start of their own turn-around. Following an exciting win over Boston on Saturday, the 'Canes could get another jolt on Sunday as they might have their 19-year-old superstar back in the lineup. Having missed the last 16 games with a concussion, Jeff Skinner could potentially return to face the Caps. The team’s third-leading scorer was on the ice and went through drills in the morning skate before Saturday’s game, but the ‘Canes decided to give him at least another day before bringing him back.
"If there’s any question mark or any uncertainty, we want to make sure he’s 100 percent," said coach Kirk Muller. "We have back-to-back games here, so hopefully we will get him ready for tomorrow (Sunday)."
Skinner has 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 games this season.
Hurricanes: Despite their struggles this season, the Hurricanes are now 3-0 against the defending Stanley Cup champions after posting a come-from-behind 4-2 win over the Bruins on Saturday night. Trailing 2-1 late in the third period, the 'Canes tied the game on a goal by defenseman Justin Faulk with 6:02 left in regulation. Then with just 90 seconds to go before a potential overtime session, fellow D-man Jay Harrison wristed a shot past Tim Thomas to give Carolina its first lead of the game at 3-2. An empty-net goal 28 seconds later by captain Eric Staal -- his 11th goal of the season -- sealed the home win for the Hurricanes, who aim to match a season-high three-game winning streak on Sunday.
"It shows we can compete with anybody," Harrison said. "On any given night, the effort you put in can be successful. That should suggest to this whole locker room that we aren't far from stringing something together and being very competitive."
Capitals: The Capitals improved to 16-5-1 at home and 11-9-1 under coach Dale Hunter with a 4-3 win over the Lightning on Friday. Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring 3:52 into the game with a power-play tally, his team-leading 18th goal of the season. Troy Brouwer shouldered the load from there as he notched his first career hat trick -- and the first by a Capital this season -- by scoring in each period and in three different scenarios: power play, even strength and empty net. Despite the Caps building a 3-0 lead early in the second period, the empty-netter actually proved to be the game-winner as Vincent Lecavalier scored with 10.2 seconds left to provide the final margin. Tomas Vokoun made 28 saves to help the Caps edge a division rival as well as the team that swept them out of the playoffs last spring.
"Those games just mean a lot more," Brouwer said. "You’re into it more. It’s got a more of a different feel to it than a boring go-along-with-it game. These get you into it right from the beginning. A lot of battles out there."
Who's Hot: Harrison has been hot, scoring four of his seven goals in the last four games. … Alexander Semin has points in six of his last seven for Washington, with 3 goals and 5 assists in that span.
Injury Report: Carolina defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (head) did not play on Saturday, while forward Chad LaRose (head) has missed last the three games. Joni Pitkanen (knee surgery/concussion) and Brian Boucher (groin) are on injured reserve and out indefinitely. … Washington center Nicklas Backstrom (head) has missed four straight games and remains sidelined. Defenseman Mike Green (strained groin) has been placed on long-term IR and is not eligible to return until Feb. 1 at the earliest.
Stat Pack: Washington’s recent form at the Verizon Center won’t do Carolina’s regrettable away record (5-12-4) any favors. In their last six home games, the Caps have scored the game’s first goal, scored in the first period and have not trailed at any point. The last time they found themselves playing from behind on home ice was over a month ago when they dropped a 5-1 decision to Philadelphia on Dec. 13. In addition, Washington allowed a power-play goal for the first time in 11 home games under Hunter when Steven Stamkos scored with the man advantage in the third period of Friday’s game. ... Carolina's win over Boston marked the first time in franchise history that the Hurricanes went without a power play during a home game.
Puck Drop: Brouwer already had practice celebrating an NHL hat trick, despite never actually recording one.
"I thought I had one a couple of years ago against Colorado," said Brouwer, who was with Chicago at the time. "But they changed a goal on me between periods and I didn’t hear it. So I celebrated, I got the puck and everything. But this was my first real one."