WASHINGTON — It has been a season of turnarounds for the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals.
The Canes' season has made a big turn for the worse in the past month. As for the Caps, things couldn't be better or brighter.
The Caps topped the Canes 3-1 Thursday at the Verizon Center, getting big saves from goaltender Braden Holtby and making what proved to be a decisive second-period surge to stay two points ahead of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.
Jeff Skinner's power-play goal gave the Canes a 1-0 lead after the opening period, but the Caps answered with second-period scores from Troy Brouwer and Mike Green for a 2-1 lead. Brouwer added an empty netter in the final seconds.
Once again, the Canes had a strong start, outshooting the Caps 14-0 in the first 10 minutes. Again, they were undone by a mediocre second period in dropping their seventh straight game.
"The guys played hard, they were batting and competing and playing well," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "We're just not getting the result, but I can't ask for more for the level of competition. We had no passengers tonight."
Of the past 15 games, the Hurricanes have won just once, going 1-13-1. The Caps (22-17-2) now lead the Canes (16-22-2) by 12 points in leading the NHL's Southeast Division.
"The way we played tonight is the way we've been for probably 10 of the last 14 games, yet we walk away with no points," Muller said. "The guys deserve better."
And to think, when the Canes last came to the Verizon Center, on March 12, they won 4-0 and had a 10-point lead on the Caps.
"It sort of drains you mentally," Skinner said of the losses. "Physically you just have to stay a way to stay positive."
Holtby made a career-best 43 saves in winning his 18th game of the season. Skinner scored off the rebound of an Eric Staal shot in the first, but Holtby had all the answers after that.
"He was outstanding throughout the whole game," Green said. "Even in the last five to 10 minutes he made some saves that should have been goals."
Holtby did get a big assist from defenseman John Carlson in the final minute of the opening period. Canes defenseman Jay Harrison unleashed a shot from the point and the puck slipped behind Holtby, but Carlson swept it away inches from the goal line.
Brouwer scored a power-play goal after a slashing call against the Canes' Jordan Staal, one-timing a pass from Mike Ribeiro from the right circle at 8:08 of the second. Green then scored at even-strength, the defenseman wheeling around Skinner in the right circle and ripping a shot over Justin Peters' shoulder.
The Canes thoroughly controlled the first 10 minutes of the game against the Southeast Division leaders, outshooting the Caps 14-0. Carolina kept the puck in the Caps zone, pressuring Holtby.
Skinner's goal was his 11th of the season and his first in 10 games. It came on a four-on-three power play as Eric Staal ripped a shot from the right circle and Skinner knocked in the rebound at 5:01.
The Canes kept coming after the Skinner score, as Jordan Staal, Skinner and Kevin Westgarth all got off heavy shots and Jiri Tlusty drove the net. Only some strong saves by Holtby kept it 1-0.
But the momentum swung the Caps' way after a tripping penalty against the Canes' Alexander Semin. Alex Ovechkin blasted a shot on the power play -- the Caps' first on goal at 10:05 of the period and Justin Peters' first save.
"That power play gave us a little life and we got some momentum," Caps coach Adam Oates said. "The game goes in waves. You don't always have your best legs to start a game. But we turned it around."
Early in the game, the Canes' Justin Faulk popped the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty. But Brouwer was called for high-sticking soon after the faceoff.
The Caps' Jack Hillen then was penalized for tripping at 4:51 of the first, setting up the Canes' 4-on-3 power play. Skinner scored 10 seconds later -- his first goal since March 21 against New Jersey.
In the second, the Caps scored twice and appeared to be taking charge, only to have the Canes make a push. Holtby was forced to make sharp stops on a flurry of shots by Jamie McBain, Semin, Chad LaRose, Jordan Staal and then Tuomo Ruutu on a rebound.
It was a milestone game for two Canes: LaRose was playing his 500th career NHL game and forward Nicolas Blanchard his first.
Blanchard, recalled Wednesday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, dropped the glove and dueled the Caps' Matt Hendricks soon after the Caps' first goal.