HURRICANES (9-22-7) at CAPITALS (24-8-6)
Last 10 -- Carolina 3-5-2; Washington 7-3-0
Season series -- Third meeting of six between these Southeast Division rivals, with the previous two both going Washington's way. The first meeting on Nov. 30 featured a knee-on-knee collision between Alexander Ovechkin and Tim Gleason which netted Ovi a game misconduct and a two-game suspension. Carolina also lost defenseman Joe Corvo for a couple of months in that game with a laceration on his right calf.
Gleason got a measure of revenge when he scored the game-tying goal in the next meeting on Dec. 11, converting a Mike Green turnover into a breakaway, only to see Green score the game-winner in overtime.
Big story -- It's a dramatic change in fortune for at least one of the two teams that have finished 1-2 in the Southwest Division the past two seasons. The Capitals lead the NHL in points while the 'Canes have the fewest, 10 points behind the next-lowest total. One reason why they have not been able to recover from a disastrously slow start is their inability to win on the road (1-13-4).
Hurricanes -- Peter Laviolette's return to the RBC Center on Saturday as coach of the Flyers began as expected with a respectful round of applause for the coach that brought the franchise its only Stanley Cup in 2006. And his former team actually showed some flashes of that championship season, mounting one of their best third-period comebacks in recent memory.
They couldn't get anything past ex-teammate Michael Leighton for two periods and just about half of the third. Three goals in a seven-minute span, two by Jussi Jokinen, forced overtime and that's where the 'Canes of today surfaced once again. They had a 4-on-3 to start the extra session but couldn't even get a shot off and ended up losing 4-3 in a shootout.
"The comeback showed the character of our team," Jokinen said. "We knew Leighton hasn’t played that much this year and he was a little shaky, so we just had to find ways to get pucks to the net and find those rebounds and get some ugly goals, which is what we got today."
Capitals -- The Caps, Devils and Penguins have been in a three-way tussle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference all year, so when two of them meet, it matters. It was the fourth time the Caps and Devils met head-to-head this season, and Washington finally broke through with a 4-1 win to finish the season series at 1-2-1.
"You sure realize,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, "after the teams we’ve played, taking nothing away from them, how elite this team [the Devils] was. In the first six minutes, I was going, 'Whoa, you can’t make a mistake at all against them.' They are so fast, they move the puck and they work hard.
"I think we played a complete game. I thought early in the third period we started to sit back a little bit too much, but then we went back at them and took it to them in the last half of the third. I thought it was a great effort on our part."
Who's hot -- Who else? Ovechkin's goal and two assists against the Devils make it three games in a row with three or more points. He began the 2009-10 season in similar fashion. The plus-3 on the night moves him to a League-leading plus-21 on the season.
Capitals rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth also has a trifecta going with three straight starts and three wins, both career firsts. He beat the great Martin Brodeur with a 29-save performance against the Devils. Brodeur's 36 wins are the most against the Caps by any single goaltender.
Jokinen's two goals versus the Flyers put him in a three-way tie for the team lead in goals with Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu. Each has 10.
Injury report -- A pre-Olympic break return for Corvo is seen as optimistic right now, while Carolina forwards Erik Cole (upper body) and Chad LaRose (lower body) are still weeks away.
Caps defenseman Tom Poti was scratched from Saturday's lineup due to an undisclosed injury.
"It's a body injury," Boudreau told the Washington Post. "It's not long term. It's not a bad injury. It's something where he'll probably practice with us tomorrow."
Stat pack -- The Capitals are 23-2-4 when they score three or more goals. … Nicklas Backstrom's nine goals in December are second-most in the NHL behind Florida's Stephen Weiss with 10. … Ovechkin's goal off Brodeur was his first off the New Jersey netminder since Dec. 28, 2005, a nearly four-year drought. … The Caps scored two first-period goals for the fifth time in their last six games, outscoring the opposition 49-19 in the first period so far this year.
Puck drop -- With only one road win so far this year, two points in D.C. would be a big step forward for the 'Canes, while the Caps continue to run neck-and-neck with the top teams in the League.