The Carolina Hurricanes raced to their eighth consecutive home win on Saturday, crushing the Washington Capitals 4-1 behind Cam Ward’s 31 saves.
Defensemen Joni Pitkanen, Anton Babchuk and Joe Corvo sparked the Carolina offense with three third-period goals on the Southeast Division-leading Capitals.
“Our defense has had a huge impact on how we play,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “I don’t know that we drew it up to have those defensemen standing in front of their net, but that’s what they saw and that’s what they read.”
The late outburst broke a 1-1 tie and boosted the sixth-place Hurricanes (39-28-7) to 85 points in the tight Eastern Conference race.
They now trail No. 4 Philadelphia (38-22-10) and No. 5 Pittsburgh (39-26-8) by a point, one ahead of the New York Rangers (38-26-8).
“We’re not secure yet,” Carolina left wing Erik Cole said. “Plus we want to play like we’re building toward something.”
Only the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs, which begin in the middle of next month.
The home win streak is one short of Carolina’s team record, set during the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour and Washington defenseman Mike Green matched second-period goals before the Hurricanes took over.
Pitkanen’s backhander pushed Carolina ahead 2-1 4:42 into the third and Babchuk made it a two-goal advantage nine minutes later.
Corvo added a short-handed empty netter with about a minute to play. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin failed to beat the puck to the net, giving Corvo a career-equaling 14th goal for the season.
Ovechkin, who scored his 50th goal of his campaign against Tampa Bay on Thursday, helped set up Green’s goal with his 44th assist.
The league MVP had been criticized for his exuberant celebration upon netting his 50th goal, where he dropped his stick near the net and pretended it was too hot to pick up.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told the Washington Post he had talked to Ovechkin about his celebration and did not expect a repeat.
RANGERS 5, SABRES 3
At New York, former Buffalo captain Chris Drury scored during New York’s three-goal second period that carried the Rangers past the sliding Sabres.
Ryan Callahan and Nikolai Zherdev added goals in the decisive middle frame after Markus Naslund staked the Rangers to a 1-0 lead in the first. New York won its third straight and moved eight points ahead of 10th-place Buffalo.
Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves and Callahan sealed the win by scoring an empty-netter with 24.8 seconds left.
Daniel Paille, Clarke MacArthur and Toni Lydman scored for Buffalo.
SHARKS 5, STARS 2
Beating Dallas gave San Jose consecutive wins for just the second time in nearly four weeks, pulling them within a point of Detroit for the overall NHL lead.
For the Sharks, Joe Pavelski had a goal and two assists, Joe Thornton and Milan Michalek also scored, Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves, Devin Setoguchi had a goal and an assist and captain Patrick Marleau added an empty-netter.
The Sharks won for the fifth time in six meetings with the Stars.
In other games it was:
• Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 2
• Coyotes 5, Canucks 1
• Thrashers 4, Lightning 3, SO
• Blue Jackets 3, Panthers 1
• Senators 5, Islanders 2