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'Canes aim to finally solve Caps

by Brian Hunter
HURRICANES (10-10-2) at CAPITALS (16-6-2)


Last 10: Carolina 4-4-2; Washington 6-2-2

Season series: Third of six meetings this season between these Southeast Division rivals, and the first at Verizon Center. The Hurricanes will try to repay the Capitals for being rude guests as the RBC Center, where Washington won 3-0 on Oct. 27 behind Nicklas Backstrom’s two goals and Michal Neuvirth’s 29 saves, and 3-2 on Nov. 24 with Backstrom again scoring twice.

Big story: One young goaltender goes out, another steps in. That's been the story in Washington, where Neuvirth got almost all the starts early thanks to Semyon Varlamov’s injury struggles and won 12 games, placing him among the NHL leaders. With Neuvirth battling a lower-body injury this past week, Varlamov was recalled from the AHL and beat Carolina and Tampa Bay in back-to-back starts, blanking Steven Stamkos and the Bolts on Friday.
Team Scope:

Hurricanes: These last several days are ones Carolina goalie Cam Ward will never forget. His family has a new addition, with son Nolan being born Wednesday morning, and Ward picked up his first shutout of the season with a flawless, 37-save performance in Boston on Friday afternoon. Supporting him offensively with power-play goals were rookie Jeff Skinner and veterans Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen, as the Hurricanes took a 3-0 win over the Bruins.
"The last couple of days have been really amazing for myself," he said. "What a great way to start for him. I knew it was going to be his first one he would watch. I'm a very lucky young man. I'm very fortunate to have a lovely wife and (her) giving me a healthy boy."

Capitals: Going up against Stamkos and the high-powered Tampa Bay attack is a tall order for only your second game back up from the minor leagues, but Varlamov was in good hands Friday thanks to Alexander Semin. His third hat trick already this season highlighted a six-goal attack by Washington’s own potent offense, and Varlamov kept Stamkos and his teammates off the score sheet in a 6-0 victory. Semin connected for a pair of power-play goals 2:04 apart and the Capitals killed off a lengthy 5-on-3 by the Lightning.
"I don't know if it was perfect," coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but it's as good as we've played all year. When you score a couple on the power play and you kill a 5-on-3, I thought it was a good game by us."

Who's hot: Ruutu has 2 goals and 4 assists during a five-game points streak for the Hurricanes. The 18-year-old Skinner has 19 points in 22 games, including 1 goal and 3 assists during his current three-game points streak. … Varlamov has stopped 47 of 49 shots in his two games back with the Capitals. In addition to Semin’s hat trick, the defense played a big part in the attack Friday, as John Carlson, John Erskine and Tom Poti scored the other three goals.

Injury report: Neuvirth dressed and was available for Friday’s game, while Poti returned from a groin injury for Washington. Missing from action were Mike Green, who’s been banged-up of late, and Tyler Sloan, who’s on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Skinner leads all rookies in assists (12) and points, and his 7 goals are one behind Logan Couture of the Sharks. … Semin’s three hat tricks in the span of 35 days is a new franchise record for the Capitals, besting the 60 days it took Peter Bondra to accomplish the feat. It’s also the fastest by any NHL player since Marian Gaborik, then of the Wild, did it in 34 days during the 2002-03 season.

Puck drop: If Varlamov gets the nod again and Ward faces him down at the other end, it’ll be a battle of goalies coming off shutouts. Carolina figures to find it a lot more difficult shutting down Washington, though, than the time it had in Boston.
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