RALEIGH, N.C. - Peter Laviolette saw his Carolina Hurricanes generating plenty of scoring chances on the power play in recent games even though they kept coming up empty. So he gave his team a simple message when closing the pre-game meeting Saturday.
"We just said, 'You know what? Keep doing the same thing,"' the coach said. "'They're going to drop."' He was right.
Matt Cullen scored twice and Eric Staal had the go-ahead score late in the second period to help the Hurricanes beat the Washington Capitals 6-3, helping Carolina maintain its hold on the Southeast Division lead.
Erik Cole added a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes, who matched their season high with four power-play goals and won at home for the sixth time in seven games. Staal also had two assists, while recently acquired defenceman Joe Corvo scored his first goal with Carolina since coming over in a trade from Ottawa earlier this month.
Andrew Ladd also scored for Carolina, which is well-positioned to increase its division lead with five of the next six games at the RBC Center. That stretch could be critical to the Hurricanes' hopes of returning to the playoffs after missing out last year in a failed defence of their Stanley Cup title from 2006.
"It feels like we're down in the stretch and we need to win," Staal said. "It's that part of the season where we need to make sure we're staying ahead in our division and getting some separation. Tonight was one of those big games. It felt like a playoff game most of the night."
Carolina has the lowest point total of any NHL division leader. Washington entered the game four points back of Carolina, but sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Of course, if the Hurricanes keep playing like this, they won't have to worry about anyone in their rearview mirror.
They have scored at least five goals in three of the last five games. In addition, Carolina finished with 42 shots, cracking the 40-shot mark for the third straight game. It was the first such stretch for the franchise since moving to North Carolina before the 1997-98 season.
Against the Capitals, the Hurricanes went 4-for-7 with the man advantage after going a combined 0-for-16 in the past four games. Making that performance even more impressive was the fact it came against a Capitals team that had killed off all 22 penalties it had faced in the last six games.
"We moved the puck with the intent of shooting it when we got it," said Cullen, who also assisted on Corvo's third-period goal. "When your power play has been struggling, it seems if you simplify it, things get better."
Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich scored goals for the Capitals, who led 2-1 after the first period before the Hurricanes pushed ahead for good with the game's final three goals. Alexander Ovechkin had three assists.
"The standings are going to change a thousand times before the end of the year," Capitals defenseman Tom Poti said. "We just have to keep going out and playing and getting wins. We've got to put this behind us and not think about it again."
NOTES: Semin pushed his goal streak to four games, while Ovechkin managed his 22nd multipoint outing this year. ... Green pushed his point streak to three games. ... Staal's goal was his 30th of the year, marking the third straight season he has reached that mark. ... Carolina is 4-2 against Washington this year. ... Corvo, LW Ray Whitney, D Tim Conboy and LW Sergei Samsonov had two assists for Carolina. ... The Hurricanes last had 40 shots in three straight games in 1987, when the franchise was known as the Hartford Whalers.