Playing one night after being eliminated from contention for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a well-fought victory was little consolation for a team that has won three straight. Even the line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward, with nine points among them, couldn't find a silver lining.
"It was good that all of us got a chance to score," Ward said. "It just [stinks] that it doesn't mean anything game-wise. It's tough as pros. You come in here and you want to play for the Stanley Cup. Now we've just got two games to salvage a couple games for ourselves and have our pride at stake."
The Chimera-Fehr-Ward dominated throughout the game, with each player scoring a goal and earning an assist on each of their linemates' goals. All three goals were the result of hard work on the forecheck.
Washington opened the scoring on Ward's 24th goal 62 seconds into the game. Chimera began by winning a battle along the end wall. He freed the puck for Fehr, whose backhand pass found Ward in front of the net.
The same line put Washington up 2-0 at 10:58 of the second, when Chimera scored his 15th goal. The Capitals used the identical formula, winning battles in the corner until Chimera skated around the top of the crease and slipped the puck around Hurricanes goaltender Anton Khudobin. Fehr and Ward picked up the assists.
The Hurricanes generated some energy after a tenacious power play and found the back of the net shorthanded less than three minutes later. Jordan Staal made a perfect pass through two defenders to Jiri Tlusty, who buried the puck into an open net for his 15th goal at 17:36.
Washington quickly pushed the lead to 3-1, catching the Hurricanes flat-footed defensively. Marcus Johansson made a pass from the right faceoff dot to Troy Brouwer, who put his shot inside the left post with 36 seconds remaining in the second period. Defenseman Karl Alzner started the play by knocking down a clearing attempt with his glove at the left point.
The two-goal cushion helped the cause of starting goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 36 shots to earn his 23rd win.
"We felt we owed it to ourselves to play our best game, just try to get on the same page," said Fehr, who scored at 2:25 of the third to put Washington ahead 4-1. "It was nice that our line could get some sustained pressure, just continue to work them low, not do it the fancy way. We're just trying to out-cycle and out-hustle guys to pucks."
Brouwer scored again, his 25th of the season, at 3:37 of the third, firing a one-timer from the slot off Johansson's pass from the boards. Like his teammates, Brouwer didn't take much joy from his personal performance.
"We talked before the game here that we're not going to give up and ride the rest of the season out," said Brouwer, who reached 25 goals for the first time in his career. "It was a team that was having fun playing hockey tonight. Unfortunately, it was not for a whole lot.
On Thursday morning, Carolina coach Kirk Muller had stressed to his team the importance of making a good showing in the final home game of the season. It didn't happen.
"It wasn't a good game overall," Muller said. "To me it looked like two teams that in the last couple days were mathematically out of the playoffs. It was a sloppy game. For our last game at home, we were hoping for more."
It was the third straight loss for the Hurricanes (34-35-11), who have missed the playoffs five straight seasons. Muller cut his team some slack, suggesting they have fought hard down the stretch.
"We didn't have the energy you need to win a hockey game," he said. "This game is built on energy, emotion, tempo. If you lose that you're just going out there and playing the game. For the most part in all the games this year, our guys pushed. I don't think there's any quit in them."
For the Capitals, it was difficult to put a positive twist on playing a game without playoff implications. After reaching the postseason six straight seasons, even a solid win won't take the sting out of the final few games.
"It can be tough to get up for these games," Brouwer said. "But we want to finish the season off right with some good games, maybe a little consolation smile on your face when you go into the summertime, I guess."
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