RALEIGH — It was a game the Carolina Hurricanes should have won.
But the visiting Washington Capitals were just more effective on the score sheet over the last 50 minutes.
Mike Ribiero followed Alex Ovechkins weak attempt on a breakaway with just over two minutes remaining, giving the Capitals a 3-2 comeback win and erasing the effects of Carolinas 4-0 road romp over Washington two nights earlier.
Carolina leads the Southeast Division by three points over second-place Winnipeg, pending the results of the Jets late home game with the New York Rangers, with 22 games left in the lockout-shortened season.
We cant be happy, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. We had a really well-executed first period with a lot of really good things. But we let them back in the second period we had long shifts, turnovers and stopped shooting the puck When you have a chance to bury a team you have to keep with the program.
Carolina, which had a two-game winning streak snapped, is 6-2 in its last eight games. It was the first time the Hurricanes had lost in the 12 games they had led after two periods.
Michal Neuvirth (2-4-1) had 36 saves for Washington, which leads the series 2-1-0.
Obviously the win is important, Washington coach Adam Oates said. Coming back, hanging in there, killing some penalties, a big power-play goal to tie it and you know Ovi wins it.
Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis (4-3-0), who has been sharing duties with Justin Peters since Cam Wards knee injury five games ago, had 22 saves.
The Hurricanes struck quickly as Alexander Semin - who had played his whole NHL career with Washington before signing a free-agent contract with Carolina in the off-season - beat Neuvirth stick side from the low slot at 1:14 on Eric Staals pass from the left corner. Jiri Tlusty had the secondary helper, giving that No. 1 line 37 points in the last eight games.
We didnt get the job done, said Eric Staal, who collected his 20th assist. We had a 2-0 lead against a team thats behind us and didnt finish it off. Two bad line changes cost us two goals, and a power-play goal for them and that was it. Weve got to learn from this. Our third periods got to be a little bit better. Give them credit. They had to come out to compete and they did and we didnt.
Patrick Dwyer made it 2-0 at 8:17, redirecting the puck past Neuvirth stick side from the slot with Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo on the assists.
But Washington halved the lead on a rush at 5:56 of the second, as Joey Crabb took Aaron Volpattis pass off the left wing in the slot and slammed the puck past Ellis stick side. Karl Alzner had the second assist.
And the Capitals tied it on a power play 1:01 into the third, as Ovechkin beat Ellis stick side from the left circle with Troy Brouwer and Nicklas Backstrom on the assists.
It was the 700th NHL point for Ovechkin, who was the No. 1 pick in the draft when it was held in this building in 2004.
Ribiero got the winner at 17:44, punching the loose puck behind Ellis after Ovechkin had missed from the right doorstep. John Carlson had the second assist.
Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body) missed his 13th straight game while right winger Chad LaRose (concussion) missed his sixth. Right winger Kevin Westgarth was a healthy scratch.
Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu has been medically cleared to play from the hip injury that has kept him out of the lineup for 26 games. He participated in the clubs morning skate on Thursday, but is not yet activated.
Carolina visits Tampa Bay on Saturday night and the Rangers on Monday before returning home Tuesday against Florida to open a three-game homestand.