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Hurricanes-Capitals Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Carolina Hurricanes (49-20-6) at Washington Capitals (25-38-11).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The Carolina Hurricanes continue their battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they face the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center in the second of three consecutive games between the teams.

Carolina already has clinched the Southeast Division and can move within one point of Ottawa for the No. 1 seed in the East as it seeks back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-March.

The Hurricanes, though, have struggled against the last-place Capitals this season. The teams have split the six previous games and Carolina is just 5-12-0 with two ties on the road in the series since the start of 1997-98.

The clubs will complete their season series Friday in Washington, their fifth matchup in two weeks.

Josef Vasicek had a strong return for the Hurricanes on Monday, totaling two goals and two assists, and Ray Whitney scored 3:35 into overtime in a 6-5 penalty-marred win over the Capitals.

Vasicek missed 59 games following knee surgery and hadn't played since Nov. 11.

"When the game was going, I was warmer and warmer," Vasicek said. "(Coach Peter Laviolette) kept looking at me, like, 'Is the knee all right?' He did a great job with that. The knee felt good, and it was a great feeling to be out there."

The game featured 90 penalty minutes and four fights, including the first of Hurricanes leading scorer Eric Staal's career when he squared off with Jeff Halpern early in the second period.

"He tried to butt into me with the stick, and I didn't like that," said Staal, who received five stitches over his left eye from the incident. "Then both of our sticks kind of got up in the air. I'm not sure if he cut me before we started, or if he hit me. He hit me with one."

Rico Fata scored twice and added an assist for his first points in 13 games since being claimed off waivers by Washington on March 9.

Fata played 20 games with Pittsburgh and six with Atlanta earlier this season.

"It was a very entertaining game," Fata said. "Both sides played really well and we've been playing really good against them lately. Obviously, they wanted to have a good game against us."

Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin assisted on Dainius Zubrus' first-period goal to extend his point streak to nine games, but was held without a goal for the third straight contest. He has five goals and nine assists during the streak.

The 20-year-old is two goals shy of becoming just the fourth rookie to score 50 in league history, joining Teemu Selanne (76), Mike Bossy (53) and Joe Nieuwendyk (51).

STANDINGS: Hurricanes - 104 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Capitals - 61 points, 5th place, 43 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Staal, 42 goals, 50 assists and 92 points; Mike Commodore, 130 PIM. Capitals - Ovechkin, 48 goals, 48 assists and 96 points; Chris Clark, 104 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 17.8 percent (88 for 495), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.4 percent (333 for 404), 15th. Capitals - Power play: 14.8 percent (66 for 445), 27th. Penalty killing: 78.6 percent (396 for 504), 28th.

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (36-12-4, 3 SO, 2.67 GAA); Cam Ward (13-8-2, 3.71). Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (18-26-11, 3.55); Brent Johnson (7-11-0, 1, 3.66).


LAST MEETING: Monday; Hurricanes, 6-5 (OT). At Raleigh, N.C., Justin Williams had a goal and two assists to help Carolina win for only the fourth time in nine games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hurricanes - 19-13-5 on the road; Capitals - 15-17-6 at home.

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