RALEIGH — It took more than 55 minutes for the Carolina Hurricanes to get a power play opportunity Thursday night against the Washington Capitals. Still licking their wounds from a Nic Dowd goal less than a minute earlier, Carolina had a chance to snap an eight-game goal drought with the man advantage and tie up the Caps late in regulation.
There was no late-game magic, no end to Carolina’s power play struggles.
The Capitals killed off their lone penalty and then survived the Hurricanes’ late attempts with an extra attacker, beating Carolina for the second time in three nights, 3-2, in front of 14,680 at PNC Arena and clinching a spot in the playoffs.
“We got one chance today and we should make it count,” Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho said of the team’s power play. “Games like this, it’s just you have to find a way to be a good power play and put the puck in the net.”
Nic Dowd’s net-front redirection of a Nick Jensen shot with 4:56 remaining proved to be the difference, with the Hurricanes squandering a third-period lead for the second time in the past four home games.
The loss marked the first time since Jan. 15-18 that Carolina dropped consecutive games in regulation. With points at a premium, the Hurricanes know every game is crucial.
“It hurts tons,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Those are really tough losses. … It’s just tough this time of year and everything that’s going on makes it that much tougher. But we’ve just got to pick the pieces up and come back tomorrow and, new day.”
The Hurricanes got off to a slow start, but Nino Niederreiter seemingly swung the momentum In their favor by waiting out Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (24 saves) and tapping the puck in from his stomach to give Carolina a 1-0 lead 4:31 into the game.
But the goal didn’t slow the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland, covering at the right point for pinching defenseman Calvin de Haan, jumped for a fluttering puck and missed, leading to a 2-on-1 rush for the Capitals. Brett Connolly kept the puck, toe-dragged to the middle of the ice and wired a shot past Curtis McElhinney (17 saves) just 42 seconds after Carolina had opened the scoring.
Warren Foegele put Carolina ahead at 12:30 of the second period with the best goal of his young career, rushing up the right wing, deking around Jensen and tucking the puck past Holtby to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.
The Caps then tied it back up early in the third with a highlight-reel goal of their own, as Evgeny Kuznetsov hit Jakub Vrana in stride blazing down the left wing. Vrana blew past Ferland and slipped the puck between McElhinney’s legs to tie the game 95 seconds into the third period.
From there, Carolina pressured — the Hurricanes outshot Washington 10-4 in the third — but couldn’t solve Holtby, who made several key stops to keep the Capitals on top. Washington, meanwhile, got a fourth-line goal of their own with Dowd’s redirection.
While Carolina was losing, Columbus and Montreal played each other. The Blue Jackets won and jumped over the Canadiens for the second wild-card spot (both teams have 90 points, but Columbus has one more game remaining). Carolina sits ahead of both teams with 91 points and, like Columbus, five games remaining.
“(We) just gotta come back with just the positive mindset that we’re going to keep pushing forward,” forward Jordan Martinook said. “We’re in a good spot and we’ve just got to remember that.
Notes: Foegele re-entered the lineup, and Saku Maenalanen took his place in the press box. … Carolina won the faceoff battle 28-18, led by a 12-of-16 effort by Jordan Staal. … The Hurricanes kept Washington’s top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson off the score sheet, and all three were minus-2.