The Carolina Hurricanes did Thursday what no team has been able to do to the Washington Capitals most of December.
In short, beat them.
The Caps, playing the best hockey in the NHL, came into PNC Arena with a nine-game winning streak that included five road victories. They already had beaten the Canes twice this season and were looking to do it again on New Year’s Eve.
But the Canes had other New Year’s Eve plans, scoring three times in the third period for a 4-2 victory to complete a solid month and provide a pleasing end to 2015 before an energetic crowd of 14,134.
With goalie Eddie Lack battling hard in net, especially in the final minutes with the Caps pressing, the Canes won with goals from Phil Di Giuseppe, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner along with a late empty-netter by Andrej Nestrasil.
Eleven players had points for the Canes (16-17-5), who ended December with an 8-5-1 record, and everyone in a Canes sweater contributed. That's what it took to beat the Caps, who had not lost since Dec. 10 against the Florida Panthers and have some of the most dangerous skill players in the league.
Alex Ovechkin, for one. The relentless winger scored his 21st of the season late in the game, pulling the Caps within 3-2, and nearly scored again a few minutes later, forcing Lack into a tough save, the puck hitting the goalie in the chest.
Washington defenseman John Carlson missed his third straight game with an injury and the Caps — who were 11-2-1 in December — also were missing injured forward Jay Beagle. It didn’t help that the Caps played Wednesday, beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 but showing fatigue during Thursday’s game as the Canes often were sharper and quicker to the puck.
“Obviously with them playing (Wednesday) we wanted to make sure we had jump and were ready,” said Staal, who assisted on Nestrasil’s goal. “For the first period it was tight and in the second I thought we took over for a stretch and had some great chances. It was good to see some go in and it was a good win against a team playing really well.”
The first period was scoreless, although Jordan Staal, whose line had another strong game, had a couple of attempts hit the post. Di Giuseppe then ripped in a shot in transition in the second as Jordan Staal led the rush and Joakim Nordstrom made a crips cross-ice pass to Di Giuseppe.
Nicklas Backstrom tied the score for the Caps in the second, and Eric Staal believed he had scored in the first minute of the third period on a shot in tight that caught the stick of Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer.
Play continued until the horn sounded for a stoppage — a strange turn of events. After a brief review, Eric Staal was credited with the goal at 51 seconds of the third.
“I had a feeling it was in, but you never want to celebrate and look like a yahoo if it’s called back,” Eric Staal said, smiling.
Skinner picked up his 15th of the season off a sharp setup pass from Riley Nash for a 3-1 lead at 5:16 of the third, but Ovechkin scored and the Caps continued to push until Nestrasil’s empty-net goal with 18 seconds remaining.
Lack had 35 saves Sunday in a 2-1 road win over the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Swede backed it upThursday by beating the Caps.
“It was important for me to get that first home win,” Lack said. “It’s been a while and I’ve been battling for it. My dad is in town, and it was fun getting it in front of him, too. Now, we’re going to celebrate the New Year.”