Ovechkin leads first-place Caps against Hurricanes

Alex Ovechkin's recent goal-scoring binge has pushed Washington to the top of the Southeast Division and the Capitals hope he can help the club earn a sixth straight when they host the free-falling Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

Washington is two points ahead of Winnipeg for first in the division and the Caps will get to use a game in hand over the idle Jets on Thursday.

Ovechkin scored for the third straight game in Tuesday's win at Montreal, but Jack Hillen's first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner in the 3-2 regulation decision over the Canadiens. Hillen scored with 14:27 left in the third period to stake Washington to a 3-1 edge and the Caps were able to hold on for the win.

Eric Fehr also scored for the Capitals, while Michal Neuvirth posted 27 saves for the win.

"It's the biggest points for us right now," said Ovechkin. "We beat the team in front of us so we know we can play against good teams. But we have to keep going and play our system, which gives us results."

Ovechkin has notched six goals over his last three games and has scored 16 times in his past 13 outings. The Russian sniper is now tied with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the league lead with 26 tallies this season.

The Caps played their last game without forwards Martin Erat, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward and all three players are expected to sit out on Thursday as well.

Washington is 10-8-0 as the host this season and is kicking off a three-game homestand on Thursday. The Caps also will welcome Tampa Bay and Toronto during the residency.

The Hurricanes have seen their season come apart at the seams over the last month, losing 13 of 14 games to fall into 14th place in the East. Carolina, which has lost six in a row, is now 10 points out of a playoff spot with just nine games left on its slate.

Carolina has lost all six games during its slide in regulation and is coming off Tuesday's 5-3 setback against visiting Pittsburgh. Evgeni Malkin and Beau Bennett's goals 13 seconds apart midway through the third period to lift the Penguins to the win.

Carolina had taken a 3-2 lead on Riley Nash's tally two minutes into the third period, before surrendering three unanswered scores en route to a franchise- record eighth consecutive defeat on home ice.

Joe Corvo and Bobby Sanguinetti potted goals as well for the spiraling Hurricanes. Justin Peters stopped 28-of-32 shots in the setback.

"I think every night for the last four or five games, we've come ready to compete," said Nash. "Really, we're just coming out on the wrong end. It's tough to watch because all these guys compete so hard."

Carolina, which will play three of its next four on the road, is 9-8-2 as the visiting team this season.

Washington has claimed three of four meetings against the Hurricanes this season and has six victories in the last 10 encounters overall.

Carolina has won two if its last three in D.C., including a 4-0 win at the Verizon Center on March 12. However, that also was the Hurricanes' last win of any kind.