Alex Ovechkin didn’t want to be heading into the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic mired in a goal drought that had reached double digits in games.
Ovechkin’s eight-game run without lighting the lamp came to an end Sunday in Raleigh, N.C., as he scored what proved to be the decisive goal and also had an assist in the Washington Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center.
"He's been working so hard, and not getting bounces," said defenseman Mike Green, who drew the only assist on Ovechkin’s goal. "Even that shot, it bounced, and he just had the right hand-eye coordination. Maybe in the past, it would have missed or something, and that would have been our luck. But it was big for him to get one today."
Semyon Varlamov stopped 33 shots and the Capitals also got goals from Mathieu Perreault and David Steckel as they stayed even with the Lightning in points atop the Southeast Division. Washington also completed a sweep of Carolina on its home ice for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
"Our division's pretty tough, so any game within the division, coming out with two points is huge for us," Steckel said. "Especially a game after two days off. We wanted to come out and make sure we're doing the right things and keep kind of the ball we've got rolling. I know we lost last game, but it's indicative of the way we're playing. If we keep playing like this, good things are going to happen."
Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu each had a goal and an assist in defeat for the Hurricanes, who for the first time this season have lost three consecutive games in regulation.
"We just kind of have to execute a little better, get better chances," Ruutu said. "I don't think we got enough shots. I don't think we got any. ... We had enough chances to at least tie or win this game."
Steckel scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second period when he and Ovechkin caught Carolina in a line change and went in on a 2-on-1 break. Steckel finished off Ovechkin’s feed at 10:26 to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
Ovechkin then picked up his 13th goal of the season and first since Dec. 6 with 1:58 remaining in the second, hammering the rebound of a Mike Green shot into an open net.
"He finally got a bounce that went in his direction," coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Ruutu sliced the Hurricanes’ deficit to a single goal by deflecting a Jay Harrison slap shot past Varlamov 30 seconds into the third, but the Caps’ goalie stopped all six shots he faced after that to secure the victory.
Perreault opened the scoring with his fifth goal since being recalled from Hershey of the AHL earlier this month. Alexander Semin set him up with a no-look centering pass that Perreault tapped in behind Cam Ward with 6:27 left in the first.
Unfortunately for Perreault, he later left the game with what Boudreau said was a broken nose following a collision in the corner with Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason, who received a major for charging and a game misconduct.
"It's not just the penalty on a call like that, because you lose your No. 1 defending defenseman the rest of the game," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "That really hurt us the most. I thought that's where the game turned. We liked a lot of the things early, but you saw in the second period our defense starting to have a harder time getting up the ice because their minutes were starting to get up against some pretty good players. ... (Gleason) takes huge minutes against the best, and that makes a big difference in your lineup."
Jokinen evened the score at 7:32 of the second with his sixth of the season, assisted on by Ruutu and rookie Jeff Skinner.
The Capitals have a home game remaining against the Canadiens on Tuesday before playing the Penguins in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.