RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Nic Dowd scored on a deflection with 4:56 remaining, and the Washington Capitals clinched a playoff berth with a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.
Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana scored and Braden Holtby made 24 saves to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions reach the 100-point mark for the fifth straight year and wrap up their 11th spot in the playoffs in 12 seasons.
Warren Foegele and Nino Niederreiter scored for the Hurricanes, who lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since mid-January and missed out on an important two points that would have helped their chase for their first playoff berth in a decade.
Washington’s game-winner came after Nick Jensen’s shot from the boards clipped Dowd’s stick and slipped between Curtis McElhinney’s pads.
That goal came about 3 minutes after Holtby’s best save of the night, gloving Niederreiter’s shot from about 10 feet, and Holtby then robbed Brett Pesce and Niederreiter again with about 90 seconds remaining.
Alex Ovechkin — who entered with 49 goals — was held off the score sheet and missed a long shot toward an empty net with about 45 seconds remaining.
McElhinney finished with 17 saves for Carolina, which went 0-3-1 this season against the Capitals and lost to them twice in a three-night span.
Jensen’s assist on the winner came after he was embarrassed on the goal by Foegele that put Carolina up 2-1 with 7:30 left in the second. The Hurricanes rookie juked past Jensen and beat Holtby with a forehand — then celebrated his first goal since Feb. 8 with an Ovechkin-style leap into the glass.
Vrana tied it 95 seconds into the third when he took a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov, got behind two Hurricanes and slipped the puck between McElhinney’s legs.
That came after Niederreiter put the Hurricanes up 1-0 at 4:31 of the first when he poked a loose puck at the post past Holtby for his 13th goal in 31 games with Carolina. Connolly tied it 42 seconds later with his goal on a 2-on-1.
NOTES: Vrana also hit the crossbar early in the first. ... McElhinney was Carolina’s nominee for the Masterson Trophy, given to the player who exemplifies perseverance and dedication to the sport. ... The Capitals’ nominee was D Brooks Orpik. ... Carolina D Dougie Hamilton skated in his 500th career game.
Capitals: Visit Tampa Bay on Saturday in a matchup of the East’s division leaders.
Hurricanes: Host Philadelphia on Saturday.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports