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Desperate Canes try to avoid sweep by Capitals

by Brian Hunter
HURRICANES (35-30-10) at CAPITALS (44-22-10)


Last 10:
Carolina 4-5-1; Washington 8-2-0

Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Southeast Division rivals. The Capitals will be shooting for the sweep, having outscored the Hurricanes 14-7 over the course of five games. Carolina has gained just one point in the series, by virtue of a 3-2 shootout loss at the RBC Center on Nov. 28.

Big story:
With just over two weeks remaining before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, the Capitals may be on the verge of getting some key players back. Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott both practiced with the team in full pads on Monday, while Mike Green skated briefly in full pads, but mostly before the rest of the team took the ice, according to the Washington Post. It would appear Green is still a ways from returning, but Ovechkin and Arnott seem to be closing in on game action.

Team Scope:

As much as Carolina would like to save face and finally win a game against the Southeast leaders, the Hurricanes need two points right now regardless of who they're facing. They begin play Tuesday five points behind the Sabres for eighth in the Eastern Conference, and each team has seven games remaining. The Hurricanes come off a home-and-home split with the Lightning that was disappointing because they won the opener in Tampa Bay and then fell 4-2 on home ice Saturday.

"We've come up on the short end a couple of times where we've had a lot of shots and a lot of golden opportunities, and if we continue to do that good things will happen," said Cory Stillman, who assisted on goals by Eric Staal and Erik Cole. "It's just that we’re running out of time for it."

Capitals: Even when Washington encounters a situation like it did at the end of last week when goalie Michal Neuvirth was too sick to start, another rookie standout is never far away. The Capitals just recalled Braden Holtby from Hershey of the AHL and he stopped all 18 shots he faced in a 2-0 win in Montreal. Marco Sturm's first goal since he was claimed off waivers from the Kings gave Holtby all the support he would need, and Alexander Semin added insurance late in the third period.

"The guys played outstanding," said Holtby, who was sent back down Sunday with Neuvirth healthy again. "We were expecting a pretty big push in the first period, and I think that got our guys pretty fired up. We came out pretty strong and held them to very few opportunities.

"It's a great game for a goalie to play in when your defense is battling in front of the net so hard that you're not getting that much action. It's a pretty good thing."

Who's hot: Cole (4-1-5), Staal (2-3-5) and Stillman (1-4-5) all have four-game points streaks going for the Hurricanes. … Nicklas Backstrom has 1 goal and 3 assists over his last three games for the Capitals.

Injury report:
Ovechkin could be in Washington's lineup Tuesday, while Arnott seems more likely to return Thursday against Columbus. Their injuries have been undisclosed. Green, who has a concussion, and fellow defenseman Tom Poti (groin) remain on injured reserve. … Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen came down with a case of food poisoning and is day-to-day.

Stat pack:
All three of the Capitals' rookie goalies have beaten the Hurricanes this season -- Semyon Varlamov leads the way with three wins, posting a 1.95 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. Neuvirth posted a 29-save shutout in a 3-0 victory on Oct. 27, while more recently Holtby stopped 41 of 42 shots in a 2-1 triumph on March 11.

Puck drop: The Hurricanes face the Sabres at the RBC Center on Sunday, but games before then against the Capitals, Canadiens (home on Wednesday) and Islanders (road on Saturday) will also go a long way in determining their fate.

"We felt that we could keep winning and make that (Buffalo) game the swing game," coach Paul Maurice said after Saturday's defeat. "Now we're going to need some help here. We've got to come pretty close to running the table here going out."

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