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Capitals, Hurricanes heading in opposite directions

by Corey Masisak

HURRICANES (16-21-2) at CAPITALS (21-17-2)


Last 10: Carolina 1-9-0; Washington 8-1-1

Season series: The Washington Capitals have won three of the four matchups this season.

Big story: The Capitals are surging and trying to wrap up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Carolina Hurricanes are fading and close to contending for a top-three pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Carolina defeated Washington 4-0 on March 12 and took a 2-0 lead on the Capitals two days later. Washington rallied for a 3-2 victory, and the teams have gone in opposite directions since. Carolina is 1-12-1 since that 4-0 victory, falling from a place inside the top eight in the East to 27th in the NHL and two points ahead of the 28th- and 29th-place teams.

Losing goalie Cam Ward was a huge problem, but also losing defensemen Justin Faulk and Joni Pitkanen to injuries crippled the Hurricanes. They have lost 10 of 11 since March 19, allowing 47 goals in the 10 losses. Their top two centers, Eric Staal and Jordan Staal, are a combined minus-28 in that span.

Capitals: Washington is 11-3-1 since losing that first game of the home-and-home to Carolina, including wins in five straight. The Capitals, which relinquished the Southeast Division crown to the Florida Panthers last season after winning it four straight times, hold a two-point lead on the Winnipeg Jets and have a game in hand on thems. Washington plays six of its final eight games at Verizon Center.

Captain Alex Ovechkin is tied for the NHL lead with 26 goals, and center Nicklas Backstrom is third in the League with 36 assists -- four behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis and five behind Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby.

Who's hot: Ovechkin continued his torrid pace with a goal Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens. He has 17 goals in his past 15 games. ... Carolina has lost 13 of the past 14 games -- pretty tough to make a compelling argument for anyone being "hot."

Injury report: A few key Hurricanes have returned from injury, but the team is still without Ward (knee) and Pitkanen (heel). .. The Capitals' top two left wings, Brooks Laich (groin) and Martin Erat (lower body), are out, and so is right wing Joel Ward (knee). Defenseman Tom Poti (back) remains out.

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