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Caps Take Down Canes, 4-3

Oshie and Vrana score twice each, and Stephenson shines in feisty exhibition finale

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Washington finished off its sixth and final preseason game on Sunday afternoon, downing the Hurricanes 4-3 in Carolina. T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana each netted a pair of goals in support of Braden Holtby's strong 28-save effort in the Capitals' nets. Chandler Stephenson had a pair of pretty primary helpers, led all Caps centers in ice time (19:33) and led all forwards on the team in shorthanded ice time (4:28).

Most preseason games are fairly tame affairs, but this one had some rancor and bile throughout the 60 minutes, which may be a plus as the Caps get ready for their regular season opener on Wednesday in St. Louis, against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

"It definitely was not a normal preseason game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "There was a lot of emotion and from both teams, the building was really live, a full building, and obviously what went on last year with our teams. I liked our compete today, I liked how we stuck together as a group. We did some good things.

"I like when our team plays with that type of physical element, and we're pretty tough to play against."

Video: Oshie, Vrana lead Capitals past Hurricanes

The Caps got off to a somewhat sluggish start, yielding seven shots on net - five of them from inside of 25 feet - and a goal before the first television timeout at 6:59 of the first. Sebastian Aho staked the Canes to an early lead, slipping a shot through Holtby's pads from the left circle at 3:43.

Washington righted the ship quickly, tying the game just over four minutes later on a pretty play that covered 200 feet in mere seconds. From behind his own net, Radko Gudas surveyed his options at length, even drawing boos from the crowd for his deliberation. Upon spotting an unattended Stephenson in neutral ice, Gudas put a 100-foot pass right on his tape, creating a virtual 2-on-1 with T.J. Oshie riding shotgun and Haydn Fleury as the lone defender. Stephenson's toe curl coerced Fleury into leaving his feet, leaving an easy play and a back door tap in for Oshie at 7:59.

The Caps had a lot of power play reps on Sunday, and they cashed in on the first of those just past the midpoint of the frame, scoring off the rush. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a feed from Mike Sgarbossa and carried down deep on the left side, finding Jakub Vrana on the right side for yet another back door tap in at 11:02.

Carolina put itself in the tall grass early in the second, taking simultaneous minors at 5:28 to give the Caps a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play. If that wasn't enough, they incurred two more minor penalties in the next three minutes to give Washington some extended time with the two-man advantage.

The Caps were able to cash in for an Oshie power-play goal at 7:24; he took a cross-ice feed from Nicklas Backstrom and cranked a one-timer past Petr Mrazek from the bottom of the left circle.

Caps winger Garnet Hathaway fought Carolina defender Roland McKeown midway through the middle period, and more shenanigans erupted late in the frame when one of the Carolina coaches began jawing at Washington winger Tom Wilson, who was assessed a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct for the privilege.

Video: Postgame | September 29

"I was pretty calm until some words came from their bench," relates Wilson, "and it wasn't [from] the players. So we'll leave it at that. He is clearly an emotional guy, but I don't think - if you ask anyone around the league - coaches chirping players is appropriate. So I was a little fired up, and it's good to get some emotion into it in the preseason. We'll see them down the road, for sure."

After the game, Reirden was also a little fired up. He had some words to address what is generally seen as a basic breach of hockey norms and etiquette, right from the lowest level of youth hockey all the way on up to what is supposed to be the big leagues.  

"That's something that I strongly, strongly disagree with, is a coach talking to a player from the other team," says Reirden of the behavior of the Carolina coach. "I had some comments for their bench as I walked off between periods.

"You don't get a chance to play anymore when you're a coach. So you shouldn't be talking to someone who is playing, and to me that's off limits. That's something I've always believed as a player, as a coach. No coaches should be yelling at players from other teams, because you have no chance to go out and do anything about it.

"Hockey is a special game in respect to the battle, and the compete, and the enthusiasm, and the passion that's out there, but it's for the players. And when coaches get involved, to me that's wrong."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 29

Early in the third, Nino Neiderreiter scored an unassisted goal after the puck fell out of Dmitry Orlov's sweater or equipment near the Washington line. Neiderreiter scooped it up and ripped a high shot home from the right circle at 1:28 to make it a 3-2 game.

Stephenson set up Vrana's second of the afternoon with a nice play from the right wing corner, restoring the Caps' two-goal cushion at 4:57 of the third. Stephenson found Vrana in the slot, and the winger fired under the bar to make it a 4-2 game.

That goal loomed large when Aho scored a power-play marker at 9:42 to again draw the Canes within one.

Washington was methodical in bleeding out the clock in the final half of the third, keeping the Canes largely in their own end of the ice, and killing off a late Wilson roughing minor during which the Canes had a two-skater advantage after pulling Mrazek for a sixth attacker.

The Caps won five of six exhibition games, and will take Monday off before reconvening for practice and a flight to St. Louis on Tuesday.

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