Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said the Canes needed to stay out of the penalty box Friday to beat the Washington Capitals.
The Canes didn't stay out of the box. They also didn't beat the Capitals.
The Caps scored three straight times on the power play in the second period to grab the lead, then won 4-2 in the Metropolitan Division game at PNC Arena.
Rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for the Caps (19-13-3), who are a solid second in the division with 41 points and now hold a six-point cushion over the Canes (14-14-7). The Caps had the NHL's second-best power play entering the game and only enhanced that standing. Trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Caps got power-play goals from Marcus Johansson, John Carlson and Troy Brouwer in the second period in gaining control.
The Hurricanes also scored a power-play goal in the second as Riley Nash knocked in the rebound of an Andrej Sekera shot. It was the first power-play score of Nash's career.
But the Canes' penalty killers could not get the job done as the Caps moved the puck briskly and found shooting lanes.
Johansson stuffed a shot past Canes goalie Cam Ward at the post for a 1-1 tie on the continuation of a power play that began with 20 seconds left in the first. Carlson then unloaded a shot from the point, and Brouwer got a piece of the puck on a Mike Green shot.
Brouwer's goal pushed the Caps ahead 3-2 as center Nicklas Backstrom earned his third assist of the game in extending his point streak to five games. It was the first time this season the Canes had allowed three power-play scores in a game.
Alexander Ovechkin had an empty-net goal in the final minute – his 400th career goal. Ward was making his first start since Dec. 10 against Edmonton, and the Canes were playing their first game since ending a four-game road trip Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Canes have had some sluggish first periods this season but weren't lacking any jump Friday. They kept constant pressure on Grubauer most of the first, and Jordan Staal's late goal gave the Canes a 1-0 lead.
Staal scored his eighth of the season at 17:12 of the period. After a faceoff win by Staal, Justin Faulk passed out of the defensive zone to Alex Semin, who was along the right boards and tipped the puck to Staal in full stride. Staal got a step on Backstrom and beat Grubauer with a blocker-side shot.
Jeff Skinner, who had eight goals in the past seven games, ahad some good opportunities in the game. He missed the net high on an early breakaway and hit the side of the net after a nifty third-period move.
Semin just missed tying the score with 6:35 left in the third, his shot from the left wing getting past Grubauer but the puck rolling on edge just wide of the post.
The Canes had a power play late in regulation but could not score.
The Canes outshot the Caps 13-10 in the opening period and had a 28-19 edge after two. The only downside for the Canes in a strong first were two penalties on Eric Staal -- for interference and then high-sticking.
The Canes killed off the first penalty. The second came with 19.9 seconds left in the period, and the Caps quickly tied it 1-1 in the second on Johansson's goal.
Carlson’s power-play goal came after penalty on the Canes’ Tuomo Ruutu, who first turned over the puck, then hauled down Caps forward Joel Ward. The Caps then took the 3-2 lead after Semin was called for tripping Mike Green.
The Canes topped the Caps 4-1 on Dec. 3 in Washington. Justin Peters was in net that night but Muller said he was going with "gut feeling" Friday and start Ward.
The Canes complete a back-to-back set Saturday with a road game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.