(AP) - The puck keeps going in for Alex Ovechkin, and the Washington Capitals have used his goal-scoring binge to surge to the top of the Southeast Division.
Ovechkin looks to lead Washington to its sixth straight victory Thursday night when it hosts a Carolina Hurricanes team that has gone from the top of the division to near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in less than a month.
The Capitals (21-17-2) are 5-0-0 in April and Ovechkin has eight goals in that span, giving him 26 on the season and moving him into a tie for first in the NHL with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
Ovechkin scored for the sixth time in three games Tuesday night as the Capitals won 3-2 at Montreal. Washington stayed two points ahead of Winnipeg atop the Southeast, with a game in hand.
"It's big two points for us right now," said two-time Hart Trophy winner Ovechkin, whose level of play looks to be back near its peak after dipping the last two seasons. "We beat a team in front of us (in the standings).
"We know we can play against good teams. If we play hard and play our system it gives us results."
The center on Ovechkin's line, Nicklas Backstrom, picked up two assists Tuesday and has 11 points - all assists - in the last five games. Eric Fehr and Jack Hillen also scored for Washington, which is 9-1-1 in its last 11.
Hillen's goal gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead with less than 15 minutes to go in the game, but they had to hold on for the win after allowing the Canadiens to score with just over three minutes remaining.
"We knew they were going to make a push, which they did," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "The building gets electric and it gets hard to play here. It's great for the guys to fight through that and experience that, because it's going to help down the road."
After a 4-0 win at Washington on March 12, Carolina held a three-point lead over Winnipeg for first place in the Southeast. A 1-12-1 tailspin has followed, and the Hurricanes (16-21-2) are now 10 points behind the Capitals in the division and in 14th in the East - two points in front of last-place Florida.
Carolina has lost six straight in regulation - three shy of the team record - after falling 5-3 to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
"I don't want to necessarily make excuses or say we're not getting bounces or things aren't necessarily going our way," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "Obviously, they're not. We're not getting in the win column. But we're working. We've just got to find a way to get by this slump, I guess."
It's easy to spot the turning point of the season. Carolina took a 2-0 lead in the first period against hated division rival Washington on March 14, but it's been all downhill after that.
The Capitals rallied for a 3-2 win that started this 14-game stretch in which the Hurricanes have been outscored 56-23 during a slump that has lasted for nearly one-third of the shortened 48-game season.
The stat sheet gives plenty of reason for their struggles. Their power-play unit, a season-long problem, ranks 26th in the league while their penalty kill is 28th.
They're throwing plenty of pucks at the net - the let-it-rip Hurricanes rank second in the NHL with an average of 32 shots - but are only averaging 2.6 goals while giving up 3.2 per game, third-worst in the league.
"I think every night for the last four to five games, we've come ready to compete and really, we're just coming out on the wrong end," forward Riley Nash said. "It's tough to watch because all these guys compete so hard and the leadership's there. It's just really tough."
Washington has won three of four meetings this season, with Ovechkin registering three goals and three assists.
The Associated Press News Service
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