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Capitals aim to gain ground on Hurricanes

by Corey Masisak

CAPITALS (10-14-1) at HURRICANES (15-9-1)

TV: NHLN-US, CSN-DC, FS-Carolinas

Last 10:
Washington 5-5-0; Carolina 7-3-0

Season series:
The teams have split two games at Verizon Center -- Washington won 3-0 in Alexander Semin's first game back after leaving, but Carolina won 4-0 on Tuesday.

Big story:
The Hurricanes can strengthen their hold on the Southeast Division, while this is as close to a must-win game a desperate Capitals team can have with 23 contests remaining in a season.

Team Scope:

The first meeting with Carolina this season was the start of five wins in a six-game stretch that had Washington edging back into playoff contention … but three straight losses and more injuries on the back end have left the franchise closer to despair than any point since a 2-8-1 start.

A regulation loss to the Hurricanes in this contest would leave the Capitals 12 points back of Carolina and possibly eight points shy of eighth place in the East. Three members of the defense corps began the season playing with Hershey in the American Hockey League, and the offense has sputtered with three goals in the past three games. If all that wasn't enough, lack of discipline -- a huge issue early in the season -- has been a big culprit the past three games.

Hurricanes: Carolina won back-to-back games against Florida to start March and appeared poised to grab control of the Southeast Division. One problem -- workhorse goaltender Cam Ward was hurt March 3 in the second of those wins and it was announced he'd miss 6-8 weeks.

But the Hurricanes haven't missed a beat without Ward -- they've won three of four and now lead the Southeast by three points with a game in hand on second-place Winnipeg. The offense has been rolling -- 33 goals since being shutout in Washington, including 10 in back-to-back wins against New Jersey and in the rematch with the Capitals.

Who's hot: Mathieu Perreault has three points in his past three games for the Capitals. ... Semin has 13 points in his past seven games for the Hurricanes.

Injury report:
Brooks Laich (groin) skated for the first time in weeks, but he's still out for the Capitals, along with more than half of the defense corps -- John Erskine (upper body), Mike Green (groin) and Jack Hillen (upper body) are all out and Tom Poti (upper body) is doubtful. … Along with Ward, Carolina will be without forwards Chad LaRose (concussion) and Tuomo Ruutu (hip) and possibly defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body).
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