Hurricanes throttle caps but lose Kotkaniemi to injury

Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho cut toward the net before scoring on Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek during Carolina’s 6-1 win Monday in Washington, D.C. (Alex Brandon / AP Photo)

The Carolina Hurricanes took two points out of D.C. The Capitals took a pound of flesh.

The Hurricanes’ 6-1 win Monday was marred when Capitals forward Lars Eller delivered a hit on Jesperi Kotkaniemi with 1.8 seconds remaining in the game that left the Carolina center limping to the dressing room.

“The game was over. … I don’t like it, but what are you going to do about it,” a somber Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the hit. “I talked to (Kotkaniemi). He’s not doing great. I don’t know the extent, but it’s not good.”

The hit came a little over 10 minutes after Brendan Smith, who is still wearing a protective attachment on his helmet after fracturing his skull Feb. 20, accepted Capitals forward Tom Wilson’s offer to fight with the game already decided.

Wilson — who had earlier dropped the gloves to fight Smith and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct — got the upper hand in a scrap Brind’Amour called “pointless.”

“I’m not a big fan of fighting at that point in the game,” the coach said. “There’s no reason for it, but I understand why those things happen.”

Both incidents happened because of the Capitals’ frustration with what was happening on the scoreboard.

Derek Stepan and Martin Necas both scored in the first eight minutes as the Hurricanes established their forecheck and outshot the Capitals 10-5 in the opening 20 minutes.

But it was two power plays in the second period that charted the course of the game.

Wilson scored just after the first Washington man advantage ended to halve Carolina’s lead, and four seconds later Max Domi went to the box for cross-checking.

This time it was the Hurricanes scoring, with Sebastian Aho racing up the right wing and cutting in front of Washington forward Marcus Johansson before curling the puck around the pad of Vitek Vanecek (18 saves) for his 29th goal of the season and a 3-1 lead at 8:35 of the middle frame.

“That’s the big goal of the game,” Brind’Amour said. “They’re on the power play and we get the shorthanded goal. That’s probably the turning point of the game.”

Carolina scored twice more in the second, with Brett Pesce getting his seventh of the season and Necas his second of the night to make the third period a formality.

“It’s always nice, especially for offensive guys,” said Necas, who had the fifth three-point game of his career. “It always builds your confidence more and more when the puck goes in.”

Domi assisted on Necas’ second goal and also Stepan’s to open the game’s scoring, giving him his first two points with Carolina after he had an assist taken off the scoresheet in Saturday’s 7-2 win over St. Louis. He was one of five Hurricanes with multiple points in the win.

The Hurricanes, however, weren’t in a celebratory mood after beating the Capitals for the first time this season in the last of their four regular reason meetings. Instead, the team’s thoughts were on Kotkaniemi’s status.

“He’s a big part of this team and we need everyone here, so seeing him go down is not easy,” Domi said. “Hopefully he will be OK. We don’t know what it is yet, but hopefully it’s not so bad.”

And their minds were also on the hit that caused the injury.

“For me, it’s just so stupid,” Necas said. “I don’t even know who hit him, but whoever it was — it’s a 6-1 game, one second left and he does that. He tries to be a hero or whatever. I’ve got no words for that. I think it’s just ridiculous.”

Notes: Vincent Trocheck and Teuvo Teravainen each had two assists, while Brady Skjei scored in the third and finished with a goal and an assist. … Frederik Andersen stopped 25 shots for his 32nd win of the season. … Jaccob Slavin recorded his 31st assist of the season, a new career high. He was also plus-3 for the 21st time in his career, one behind Ulf Samuelsson for the most plus-3 games by a defenseman in franchise history. … The top line of Aho, Teravainen and Seth Jarvis played just 14:33, 12:44 and 10:45, respectively, a positive with a flight to Tampa Bay and game Tuesday against the Lightning on the schedule. … Vanecek was pulled after two periods and Ilya Samsonov stopped five of six shots he faced in relief.