WASHINGTON — Paul Maurice coached his 1,000th career game in the NHL on Sunday, but it was far different from the first.
No. 1,000 was decided in a shootout.
"When I first started they didn't have them," he said. "For the first 500 or 600 I don't think we had any shootouts. Good for the fans, tough on the coaches."
And tough for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Canes won their first shootout of the season, against the Minnesota Wild in Finland but now have dropped three straight in a span of five games - to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and the Washington Capitals, who edged the Canes 3-2 on Sunday on Alex Ovechkin's shootout score.
Eric Staal's goal with 2.2 seconds left in regulation tied the score 2-2 and earned the Canes a point. But the Hurricanes couldn't beat Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov in overtime or the shootout.
Varlamov, who had 26 saves, turned back shootout attempts by Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. Ovechkin, the first Caps shooter, beat Cam Ward with a high shot to Ward's glove side for the decider.
"We played a good game," Staal said. "The first period wasn't great, but we battled back and fought hard. It's a tough way to lose. We've got to find a way to win a shootout."
Ward, coming off a 37-save shutout of the Boston Bruins on Friday, made 38 saves Sunday, 15 in the first and 14 in the third, to help the Canes reach the shootout.
"He kept us in it," Staal said.
Ward was under constant pressure in the first period, when the Caps (17-6-2) got goals from Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin for a 2-0 lead.
Just when it seemed it might be another Caps runaway at home, where they are a league-best 12-1-1 and ripped Tampa Bay 6-0 at Verizon Center on Friday - the Canes grittily clawed back in it.
Erik Cole scored off a centering pass from Staal just 50 seconds into the second period. The rest was a test of wills in all three zones before the Canes pulled Ward in the final minute of the third.
After Staal won a faceoff in the Caps' zone, he went to the front of the net. Joni Pitkanen put a shot on goal, and Staal backhanded in the rebound for the sudden tie to silence the crowd.
"I knew there was only 11 seconds left, and I won the draw clean back," Staal said. "I just took off for the net. That's where the puck has to go.
"It kind of bounced around in there. I got a good handle on it and got a good backhand and put it where I wanted to put it."
In the opening period, the Caps were all over the Canes. They were quicker to the puck, keeping sustained pressure on Ward.
Johannson, the Caps' first-round draft pick in 2009, scored seven minutes into the first after Eric Fehr squeezed the puck away from Pitkanen in the corner and centered a pass.
Washington's second goal was classic Caps stuff. The Canes had the puck in the Caps zone, only to see Nicklas Backstrom get the puck to Ovechkin and Semin for a two-on-one rush.
Ovechkin, carrying the puck, first froze Ward, then passed to Semin - the old Canes killer - for an easy shot. It was Semin's 18th goal of the season and his 24th in 32 career games against Carolina.
But the Canes (10-10-3) quickly came alive in the second. Staal carried the puck past defenseman John Erskine behind the Caps net and centered a pass to Cole.
Maurice coached his first game, with the Hartford Whalers, in November 1995. The Whalers topped the San Jose Sharks 7-3 in that game.
No. 1,000 was more bittersweet for Maurice, whose team faces the Dallas Stars today at the RBC Center.
"We did a real good job against a team that doesn't give up many points at home," he said. "I'm happy with the road point so we can keep moving forward."
But Ruutu wasn't happy with it.
"I don't think we're satisfied with the point. We shouldn't be," he said. "It's just one point. We've had so many of these."
But Maurice's milestone 1,000th may be one he would like to forget.
The Hurricanes flew from Boston on Saturday and held a practice. With a 5 p.m. start Sunday, Maurice called off the scheduled morning skate, saying he hoped a strong pregame warmup would suffice.
It took a while for the Canes to warm up in the game - most of the first period.
Washington began last week with a 5-0 road loss to the New Jersey Devils that left the Caps out of sorts - especially coach Bruce Boudreau. But the Caps responded to a tough practice the next day in Raleigh by beating the Canes 3-2 on Wednesday as Ovechkin was shifted from left wing to right wing for the first time in his career.
The Caps routed the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-0 on Friday at the Verizon Center with Ovechkin still on the right side, but he was back at left wing against the Canes.
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