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Capitals start crucial home-and-home with Hurricanes

by Adam Kimelman /

HURRICANES (14-9-1) at CAPITALS (10-13-1)


Last 10: Carolina 6-4-0; Washington 5-5-0

Season series: This is the second of five games between the Southeast Division rivals. On Feb. 26, Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals in a 3-0 shutout of the Hurricanes in Washington.

Big story: The home-and-home series, which starts Tuesday in Washington and concludes Thursday in Raleigh, could be pivotal for the Capitals. Washington entered the week eight points behind the Southeast-leading Hurricanes.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu could be back from December hip surgery as soon as this week. The original thought was he would need until the end of April to recover, but general manager Jim Rutherford told the Raleigh News and Observer that March 15 was the date when doctors would determine if Ruutu could be cleared to return to practice.

Once that happens, coach Kirk Muller said it wouldn't be long before Ruutu could be back in the lineup.

"Hopefully by [March 15] we get the green light," Muller told the newspaper. "I think it will start off as team practices, then physical contact. He's a guy who has kept himself in pretty good shape. I think once it starts, as far as practices, I don't think he's too far off. If he feels good, you could see him being ready to get in the lineup. I don't know how long it will take but I don't think it will take too long."

Ruutu was fifth on the Hurricanes last season with 34 points in 72 games, and led the team with 151 hits.

Capitals: Washington defenseman Steve Oleksy scored his first NHL goal Sunday, capping his long climb up the hockey ladder, which included a one-year detour as a community-college baseball player.

Oleksy took a year off from hockey while attending Macomb Community College in Clinton, Mich., hitting .290 with two home runs in 23 games as a third baseman. He still got a hockey scholarship to Lake Superior State, and after three seasons on the blue line there, he bounced around the minor leagues, spending time in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins and Bridgeport Sound Tigers before signing with the Hershey Bears in July 2012.

Now 27, he was called up by the Capitals on March 5, and in four games has a goal and three assists, as well as 11 hits and 12 blocked shots.

"I don't really know what to say," Oleksy told "I'm just kind of the kid living the dream right now."

Who's hot: In his previous nine games, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom has two goals and eight assists. … Hurricanes forward Alexander Semin has 10 points in five games, including three three-point games.

Injury report: Besides Ruutu, the Hurricanes will be without goalie Cam Ward (knee). Forward Chad LaRose (concussion) and defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body) are questionable. … For the Capitals, forward Brooks Laich (groin) and defensemen Mike Green (groin) and Jack Hillen (upper body) are out. Defenseman John Erskine (upper body) is questionable.

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