RALEIGH — On paper, it was a mismatch. Advantage, Washington Capitals.
The Caps have the NHL's best record. They have scored the most goals. They were looking to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As for the Carolina Hurricanes, they had eight players in the lineup Thursday who have played in the American Hockey League this season. They had rookie forwards, rookie defensemen.
But although the Canes haven't had the season they wanted, they have been able to beat the Caps. Manny Legace had 41 saves and Chad LaRose's goal in the fifth round of a shootout was the winner as the Hurricanes took a 3-2 victory and a 3-1-2 lead in the season series.
Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Caps in the first round of the shootout, and the Canes' Ray Whitney matched it in the third. To begin the fifth round, Canes coach Paul Maurice and associate head coach Ron Francis were debating who to send out when they received a little help.
"Ronnie and I were arguing about it behind the bench, so Ray Whitney said, 'Give Rosey a chance,' " Maurice said, smiling. "I said, 'Are you sure?' and he said, 'Yep,' so we put Rosey out there."
LaRose had never taken a shootout shot, but Whitney had a hunch. LaRose did beat Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov on a breakaway last week in the Canes' 4-3 overtime win at the RBC Center.
LaRose delivered in the shootout, beating Varlamov with a nifty forehand. The Caps' Mike Green was wide of the net on his fifth-round shot, and the Canes had won it.
Defensemen Jamie McBain and Bryan Rodney, both rookies, scored first-period goals to give the Canes a 2-0 lead over the Caps - for Rodney, his first NHL goal. Maurice said before the game he hoped to catch the Caps flat after their physical, emotional 4-3 shootout win Wednesday over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Canes did just that.
"I thought they came out a little slow," Maurice said. "We need to take advantage of that when we play a team like that. But we skated well in doing it. We were moving."
By the second period, the Caps were moving and shooting. Alexander Semin's goal early in the second made it 2-1, and rookie defenseman John Carlson's first NHL goal tied it 2-2 at 2:12 of the third.
"You know the barrage is eventually going to come," Legace said.
Of the two goals he gave up, Legace said, "They were terrible." But he made a big stop on Semin in the final five seconds of regulation.
"It was like an NCAA [game]," Legace said, grinning. "It was just a panic there."
Legace also denied Alexander Ovechkin late in the second period. Ovechkin, who has 45 goals, took a sharp-angle shot from the left side of the net and raised his arms to celebrate.
"He hit the post and hit my skate," Legace said. "I was like, 'Oh, man.' He was yelling.
"I just put my glove back there. It didn't cross, right?"
The play was reviewed, and a no-goal call upheld. In five games this season against the Canes, Ovechkin did not score.
Nor did Ovechkin score in the shootout. Legace gave up the goal to Backstrom but stopped Ovechkin, Semin and then Tomas Fleischmann. Either Semin or Fleischmann could have ended it.
Ovechkin had flattened Legace with an elbow during the second period as he blasted through the crease, drawing a penalty. But Legace, who also have five saves in overtime, stood tall in the end.
"Great game by Manny," LaRose said. "Their firepower was shooting from everywhere, and he was up to the challenge."
Just as the Canes were against the Caps all season.
email@example.com or 919-829-8945