RALEIGH -- Washington's Cody Eakin was struggling to explain how it felt to score his first NHL goal.
"Relieving," said the Capitals 19-year-old rookie after beating Cam Ward with a pinpoint wrister in Washington's 5-1 win over Carolina Friday night.
While the goal, set up by Alexander Semin on a 2-on-1, served as his welcome-to-the-NHL moment, Alex Ovechkin put an exclamation point on the experience with a towel full of shaving cream gel -- with an emphasis on "full." Eakin had to excuse himself to clear the mess from his mouth and eyes.
What began as a workmanlike game quickly turned into a rout, with plenty of moments to celebrate, as five Capitals scored goals. Ovechkin added two assists.
With Carolina leading 1-0 after the first period on an Anthony Stewart goal, Jeff Halpern and Troy Brouwer scored 69 seconds apart early in the second period. John Carlson, Eakin and Nicklas Backstrom found the net in the third period. That was more than enough support for Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 24 shots in his first start since beating Carolina 3-2 on Oct. 8. Cam Ward made 27 saves for the 'Canes.
"They got a tip goal early, but I thought we were two teams playing hard," said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who wondered if his team might be in for a long night after Ward stoned the Caps for 20 minutes.
"I was worried about that after the first period, quite frankly," he said. "I looked up and saw 15 shots. At the end of the first we had the power play where we buzzed around pretty good. But when (Halpern) got one to break the shield, I was hoping we could get more. Then Troy got one soon after."
Ovechkin didn't give his team much credit for its play early in the game.
"The first period we didn't play our game at all," he said. "I think they had momentum on their side, but after the 15-minute break, we dominated them I think."
Stewart gave the Hurricanes the lead 3:26 into the game when he got a piece of Jay Harrison's wrister from center point and deflected it past Neuvirth. Jeff Skinner set up the play after the Hurricanes had won the draw in the left circle.
The first period was penalty free until 18:36 when Washington earned its first power play. Ward was whistled for tripping when his sweep check toppled Johansson coming around the net. The Capitals peppered the Carolina goal with five shots but couldn't get one past the Hurricanes netminder. Ward's best stop came against Semin on a wrist shot from the right circle.
Carolina had a handful of chance in the period, including a Jamie McBain shot from between the circles that sailed wide of the net. The Capitals held a 15-10 first-period advantage in shots on goal.
The two oldest Caps combined for the game-tying goal 1:28 into the second period. Mike Knuble, a 39-year-old winger, fired a close-range shot from near the goal line; when the rebound came out long, the 35-year-old Halpern came down the slot to bury the second chance. It was the first goal in a Capitals uniform in five-plus years for Halpern, who played in Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal before returning to Washington as a free agent over the summer.
"Just to start off the season, you want to get that first one," said Halpern, who sat out the previous game. "It's tough seeing that goose egg in the goal column. I've thought about scoring a goal back here in Washington, and it felt good."
The Capitals took at 2-1 lead at 2:37 of the second period when Marcus Johansson picked up a loose puck on the left wing boards and sent a cross-ice pass through two Carolina defenders to Brouwer, who redirected the pass behind Ward. It was Brower's third of the season.
The Hurricanes thought they had tied the game on a power play in the second period. With Joel Ward off for hooking, Skinner knocked in a loose puck during a scrum around the net, but the whistle had blown an instant earlier when the referees lost site of the puck. In all, Carolina failed to convert on three power plays in the second period -- and the 'Canes paid the price when the Caps blew the game open in the third period.
Carlson made it 3-1 at 3:15 of the third period by beating Ward with a power-play blast from the right circle for his first of the season. At 10:49, Semin set up Eakin for his goal, before Backstrom score his fifth of the season to finish the scoring. Ovechkin and Brouwer started the play with a pair of nice passes.
For Carolina, the game was reminiscent of a 5-1 loss last weekend in Philadelphia -- a game in which the Hurricanes gave up four goals in the third period. That did not sit well with Carolina coach Paul Maurice.
“We did not have the fire to win that game and that’s the bottom line,” he said. “We weren’t coming. That fire wasn’t there by either team but they can get away with it … and we can’t.”
“It was 2-1 going into the third and we were sort of lucky to be there," said Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen, who blocked four shots. "Then we gave them too many chances in the third. We’ve got to realize we’ve got enough offense to come back in those situations. We sort of unraveled."
But the Capitals held it together, cruising to a win that was satisfying on many levels. Boudreau even admitted to sharing the thrill of Eakin's first goal.
"You always like being part of that because it brings you back to remembering yours," he said. "So it's cool."
And as Eakin -- freshly cleaned up from his encounter with shaving gel -- strolled past Ovechkin, he shouted "Thanks, Ovi!" at the Washington captain. Without skipping a beat during an interview, Ovechkin shot back, "No problem."
Over at his locker, Halpern reflected on 811 NHL games, and coming full circle for another goal with the team where it all started.
"I've learned over the years that it becomes a business," he said. "So you try to enjoy the moments where you are as much as you can. You know that it can change any day. It's been a treat to be back here and maybe appreciate it more the second time around."