Capitals use late PP goal to win, take NHL’s top spot from Hurricanes

Washington’s Alex Ovechkin celebrates with teammates following the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals hadn’t played each other in more than 22 months, finally renewing their rivalry Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena.

The top two teams in the NHL didn’t disappoint.

In a game filled with high-paced play and physicality, the Hurricanes erased a two-goal Capitals lead in the third period only to see Dmitry Orlov score a power play goal right as a two-man advantage expired to give Washington a 4-2 win in front of a sellout crowd to take over the top spot in the league’s overall standings.

After Hurricanes rookie Seth Jarvis was forced to take a holding penalty on a Nick Jensen scoring opportunity with five minutes remaining, Sebastian Aho was called for slashing after breaking Aliaksei Protas’ stick 30 seconds later to give Washington a prolonged 5-on-3.

Carolina killed off the Jarvis penalty, but before he could get back into the play to help kill the remainder of the Aho penalty, Orlov scored on a cross-ice feed from Tom Wilson to give the Capitals the game-winner. John Carlson added an empty-net goal with under two minutes left to complete the scoring.

“The first penalty’s a penalty for sure. … The other one, I get it,” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who was irate on the bench after the Aho penalty was called. “It’s a tough call when you’re down one (player) at that time to call one. It’s a nothing play. We actually had the puck.

“Like, we’re getting it. I get it, why they call those, but it kind of felt like (Protas) called it. He kind of gave the old yell at the ref and then he decides to call it. But it is what it is. That’s a penalty.”

The loss overshadowed a third period comeback by the Hurricanes, who trailed by two entering the final period after Washington scored twice in 59 seconds near the game’s midway point but got goals by Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nino Niederreiter to tie the score.

“I think it was a pretty good period overall,” Aho said of the third. “We get the two goals and came back in the game, so it’s always nice that we can do that as a group.”

Kotkaniemi put Carolina on the board with a goal in the second straight game.

Jordan Martinook won a board battle and centered to Kotkaniemi in the high slot, and the 21-year-old buried a wrist shot past Ilya Samsonov’s glove to halve the Capitals’ lead at 6:22 of the third.

The Hurricanes then got the equalizer at 13:32 of the third when Niederreiter scored from a similar place on the ice and spot on Samsonov (30 saves) just as a Carolina power play expired to make it 2-2.

“It’s always good to get a get on the scoresheet,” said Niederreiter, who scored his first goal in a month after missing more than two weeks with an injury and going without one in the six games since he returned to the lineup. “But at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough to win the hockey game.”

That erased the lead Washington had built in the middle of the second period.

Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin scored the 749th goal of his career and 19th of the season on a tap-in of an Orlov pass to open the scoring at 11:58 of the middle frame. Protas then got his first career NHL goal when he centered a pass that hit Carolina defenseman Tony DeAngelo’s skate and snuck past Frederik Andersen (21 saves) at 12:57 of the second.

“I thought the game was dead even,” Brind’Amour said of the first two periods. “They got a lucky bounce — which, that happens — and they capitalized on one and we didn’t on a couple of our chances.”

Brind’Amour — facing Peter Laviolette, who coached the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup team Brind’Amour captained — wasn’t surprised the level of play and intensity of the two teams was quick to reignite in their first meeting of the season.

“That’s a great team,” Brind’Amour said of the Capitals. “Great team over there. They give you nothing, and you had to earn every chance tonight.”

That didn’t overshadow Brind’Amour’s disappointment of having the game decided on two late penalties.

“You want to let the guys that are out there decide it, and that’s not really what happened,” he said.

Notes: DeAngelo extended his point streak to five games with an assist on Kotkaniemi’s goal. … Andersen is 2-3-0 in his last five starts after starting the season 9-1-0. … Vincent Trocheck has now gone six games without a point, his longest drought since a six-game stretch from Nov. 22, 2016, to Dec. 3, 2016, when he was still with Florida.