Facing the Hurricanes in Carolina for the second time in less than a week on Friday night, the Capitals didn't make it easy on themselves. They took a slew of penalties - again - and after entering the third period with a two-goal lead, Washington gave up a pair of power-play goals to the Canes in the final frame. But Ilya Samsonov turned in another stellar performance on the road, making 38 saves, and the Caps never trailed in a 4-3 victory over Carolina.
Video: Kuznetsov, Eller lead Capitals to 4-3 victory
"Outstanding," exudes Caps coach Todd Reirden on Samsonov's performance. "He gave up some goals, but there was no question he was the first star tonight. [He was] really, really solid in the first.
"I liked the start to our first, and we're doing some good things and then we take penalties and allow them to get the momentum, and he was really sharp. So, definitely the difference maker tonight."
As has been the case all too frequently this season, the Caps found themselves in some penalty killing soup early in this one. Washington went shorthanded twice in the first frame, including 50 seconds worth of a 4-on-3 Carolina power play. But thanks to some strong play from Samsonov and the Caps' penalty killing outfit, Washington managed to get out of the period with the game still square at 0-0.
Carolina poured 18 shots on Samsonov in the first, 14 of them coming at even strength. The Hurricanes owned a lopsided 28-9 advantage in shot attempts in the first 20 minutes. Washington went more than nine minutes without generating a shot on net, a span that included both of its first-period penalty-killing missions.
Video: Postgame | January 3
Washington grabbed the lead early in the second. The Caps lost a draw in their own end, and after Samsonov made a stop on Brock McGinn, Lars Eller pulled the puck away from the Washington net front and sent Richard Panik into Carolina ice in a 1-on-1 situation with Canes defenseman Jake Gardiner. Panik was able to get a backhander on net, and Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek made the stop. But the rebound kicked out front, and it pinged into the net off the knee of Carolina blueliner Brett Pesce at 2:58 for a 1-0 Washington lead.
Less than 90 seconds after the Panik goal, the Caps went on the power play when Carolina's Sebastian Aho was busted for the first of two second-period interference calls. Samsonov made one of his biggest saves of the game while the Caps were on the power play, thwarting Dougie Hamilton's breakaway bid.
Seconds later, Washington doubled its lead on a sublime feed from John Carlson to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had an easy back door tap-in to make it a 2-0 game at 5:07 of the second.
"I feel like they got pretty good looks early in the first period," says Kuznetsov, "but then we kind of controlled the game. I think that the breakaway when we were on the power play and Sammy stopped the breakaway, and we got a goal right away gave us some energy."
Carolina entered the game at plus-16 in the second period, but the Caps took control of the contest in the middle period on this night.
"The penalties killed whatever momentum we were trying to build in the first," says Eller. "And then in the second, we spent more time in the offensive zone."
Video: Reirden Postgame | January 3
Washington took that two-goal lead to the third, but the Canes cut into it almost instantly, breaking Samsonov's shutout spell with a Jordan Staal deflection of a Pesce point shot just 39 seconds into the final frame.
The Canes then proceeded to put a bullet in their foot when Erik Haula was boxed for slashing just 14 seconds after the Staal strike. Washington restored its two-goal cushion on the power play when Eller pulled a favorable carom off the back wall after Alex Ovechkin missed the net. Eller quickly tucked it behind Mrazek to make it a 3-1 game at 2:29.
Just over two minutes later, the Caps expanded their lead on a rush goal. T.J. Oshie left the puck for Kuznetsov on the left wing wall at the Carolina line, and Kuznetsov carried deeper before firing a cross-ice feed to Jakub Vrana at the back door. Vrana slipped a shot behind Mrazek on the short side at 4:51, breaking a 10-game dry spell with his 16th goal of the season.
When the Caps again began parading to the penalty box, the Vrana goal began to loom larger. Eight seconds after Carl Hagelin was hauled off for hooking, Carolina's Teuvo Teravainen scored to make it 4-2 at 6:35.
Oshie was incarcerated for cross-checking in the back half of the third, and again the Canes cashed in, pulling to within a goal on Ryan Dzingel's power-play tally exactly six minutes after Teravainen's.
The Canes had all the momentum at that point, and the Caps seemed to be white-knuckling their way through the late minutes of the third, but they got some help when Carolina put a bullet in its other foot. After taking an Oshie hit in the corner of the Carolina zone, Hamilton reached out and issued a gloved punch to the back of the Washington winger's helmet, incurring an unwise roughing minor with 2:44 left.
Hamilton's unforced error enabled the Caps to run out the clock and head back to the District with two points.
"It's a tough game because I really felt that of the last couple of games we played against them, it felt like we were going pretty good," says Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour. "That's a tough loss."
Samsonov ran his record to 11-2-1 on the season, and he maintained his perfect road mark at 8-0-0, just the second goaltender in league history to win each of the first eight road starts of his NHL career. He faced the most shots (41) he has faced thus far in his young career.
"It's okay, I like it," says Samsonov of the heavy shot volume. "I like it with the shots at my net. It's a hard game, hard win. It's good for the team, the team stayed all together, a lot of [penalty killing]. It's a hard game."