Capitals celebrate a big win (USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES)
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Washington Capitals shut down former teammate Alexander Semin, scored a goal with a one-of-a-kind combo and put together a second consecutive impressive performance, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 Tuesday night in their quest to make a quick last-to-first move in the Southeast Division.
Nicklas Backstrom scored in the first period and supplied the pass for John Erskine's goal in the second - the first Backstrom-to-Erskine score in their six seasons as teammates. John Carlson scored in the third and Braden Holtby, who signed a two-year contract extension Monday, made 33 saves for his fifth career shutout for the Capitals.
After a miserable start to the season, Washington has back-to-back wins by more than one goal for the first time this season. The victory moved the Capitals within four points of the Hurricanes, who led the NHL's weakling division at the start of the day's play.
Cam Ward, under pressure for much of the game, kept it from turning into an ugly rout by making 37 saves for the Hurricanes, who have lost four of five and are 0-5 against Southeast Division opponents.
Making his debut on the visitor's bench at the Verizon Center was Semin, who was booed and whooped derisively whenever he touched the puck. He ranks as the Capitals' No. 5 all-time goal-scorer and was often touted as having more natural talent than two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin, but his seven seasons in Washington were marred by criticisms about his work ethic, a complaint voiced again by Washington forward Troy Brouwer on Monday.
The Capitals allowed Semin to depart via free agency last summer, and he appeared determined to show up his old team. He shot the puck more than anyone else in the first period - three on goal, two wide of the net. He had a solo breakaway on a penalty kill early that was thwarted when his shot ricocheted off Holtby's glove, giving the fans another excuse to let out a huge cheer.
Semin finished with nine shots, including four on goal.
The second period brought a moment as unusual as the sight of Semin in an opposing uniform - one that was years in the making. Backstrom had 278 assists since entering the NHL with the Capitals in 2007, but none of them set up Erskine, who had only nine goals in his seven seasons in Washington.
But the pair produced just 31 seconds into the period, when Backstrom found Erskine trailing the rush. Erskine, who also signed a two-year contract extension Monday, teed up a slap shot that beat Ward on the stick side.
Ward was otherwise on top of his game, making point-blank saves on Brouwer and Joel Ward in the second period. The Ward-on-Ward save was an incredible piece of glove work, with the goalie reaching back to deflect the puck just as it was about to cross the goal line.
The Capitals opened the scoring on a power-play goal by Backstrom, who perched in front of the crease to receive a pass from Mike Ribeiro. Washington has scored first in eight straight games.