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Skinner powers Hurricanes past Capitals in OT

by Adam Vingan

WASHINGTON -- Jeff Skinner entered the Carolina Hurricanes' game against the Washington Capitals on Thursday on an impressive goal-scoring run, with four goals the past four games. He rang in the new year just as he ended 2013.

Skinner completed his second-career hat trick, and second in a month, with an overtime game-winner to lift the Hurricanes to a 4-3 victory against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.

With the victory, the sixth-place Hurricanes, who snapped a five-game losing streak with a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, moved to within five points of second-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division.

"It's a big win," Skinner said. "Obviously, they're ahead of us in the standings and we're trying to catch them, so we're always trying to pick up points against them. It's a big win for us, especially coming off that sort of emotional last game."

In overtime, the Hurricanes took advantage of a Capitals offensive-zone turnover, converting a 3-on-1 when Ryan Murphy fed Skinner with a cross-ice pass that he tipped in for his 19th goal of the season.

"Goal scorers can go on streaks, and he's certainly on a nice streak," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said of Skinner. "You give him the opportunity and he's certainly going to capitalize. [Murphy] made that great play at the end [on the game-winner]. [Skinner's] an opportunist. He's finding the holes now, and it's great because not only is he scoring, but he's scoring big goals for us."

Manny Malhotra also scored for Carolina. Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Steve Oleksy scored for Washington, which has lost three straight and five of six (1-2-3).

Hurricanes goaltender Anton Khudobin, making his first start since Oct. 13 after missing nearly three months with an ankle injury, made 38 saves. Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 29 shots.

The Hurricanes and Capitals opened the 2014 portion of their schedules with a bang, exchanging five goals within 3:45 of a seesaw second period that ended with the game tied at 3-3.

The Capitals controlled the pace of play throughout most of the first period, registering 11 of the game's first 14 shots on goal. Khudobin, however, turned them all away, most notably sliding over to thwart Jason Chimera's rebound chance around the four-minute mark.

Despite Washington's many scoring chances, Carolina took the lead at 13:27. With the Capitals down two men for 1:22 and Nicklas Backstrom breaking his stick on a clearing attempt, Alexander Semin threaded a pass to Skinner near the right post. Skinner, who had whiffed on a rebound opportunity from the same area earlier on the power play, did not miss the second time, roofing the puck over a sprawling Grubauer.

Washington wasted little time tying the game in the second period. Ovechkin broke a season-long four-game goalless drought 49 seconds in. As he rumbled down the ice and into the offensive zone, Ovechkin's snap shot clipped Ron Hainsey's stick before knuckling past Khudobin for his NHL-leading 31st of the season.

Ovechkin's goal was just the beginning of the teams' scoring outburst. Malhotra restored Carolina's lead 55 seconds later, finishing a 2-on-1 rush with Drayson Bowman by beating Grubauer high to the glove side for his third goal of the season. Brouwer answered with his ninth at 3:02, collecting Backstrom's rebound in front and backhanding it into the net.

Thirty-eight seconds after Brouwer tied the game 2-2, Ovechkin earned his second penalty shot of the season when he was dragged down by Justin Faulk on a breakaway, but he failed to score for the seventh time in nine career penalty-shot opportunities.

Oleksy, however, made sure that the Capitals did grab their first lead of the game 14 seconds after Ovechkin's failed penalty shot. Jay Beagle won the faceoff back to Oleksy, standing just outside the right circle. The defenseman carried the puck below the goal line, wrapping all the way around to the left circle before firing a wrist shot that eluded Khudobin at 3:54.

"Sometimes it happens," Khudobin said of the barrage of goals. "It was, what, five goals in three-and-a-half minutes? I don't want to say bad words, but sometimes it happens. It's nothing that anybody can do. You just have to regroup, refocus and keep playing because the game [can be] 60-plus minutes."

The Capitals gave up another goal soon after scoring, a problem that has plagued them all season. Skinner chased down Murphy's rebound after Martin Erat failed to corral it and beat Grubauer for his second of the game 40 seconds after Oleksy had given Washington the 3-2 lead.

"To be honest, it's sort of embarrassing," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "And especially that we're aware of it. I mean you score a goal, you stick to your rules that next shift: You get the puck, you get it in deep. That way, their bench is in some disarray, their coach is on them saying we're outworking them, and then your decisions with and without the puck, you have to be sharp in that instance. What was it, two tonight that we gave up quickly after a goal? It's not acceptable."

Carolina had a prime chance to take a 4-3 lead late in the period when Murphy wrapped around the net on a power play, but John Carlson was able to get his stick on the puck, preventing it from crossing the goal line.

The Hurricanes will take their two-game winning streak to Long Island for a game Saturday against the New York Islanders.

"It wasn't the prettiest game for us tonight, but we've had some games lately that we said we thought we deserved to win, and we didn't," Muller said. "Tonight, we slugged it out and grinded, and you know it wasn't pretty, but we found a way to win a hockey game, an important game on the road."

The Capitals' next opportunity to snap out of their recent skid will come on the road Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.

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