Washington — — The Washington Capitals' 2011-12 season opener certainly wasn't pretty. They gained and relinquished two separate one-goal leads and the Carolina Hurricanes forced overtime with less than two minutes remaining.
But in the extra session the Capitals found an ally in the special teams unit that so often betrayed them a season ago. Mike Green scored unassisted on the power play 2:24 into overtime to seal a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes. It marked Washington's 10th consecutive win in a home opener and gave a raucous announced 18,506 — the 107th consecutive sellout at Verizon Center — a reason to go home happy.
Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera also scored to help Washington continue fighting back against their Southeast Divison rivals. Michal Neuvirth, after earning a surprise start in the opener, made 28 saves and had a strong performance despite seeing limited work at times.
Carolina captain Eric Staal led the visitors with a pair of goals.
Washington appeared to have the game wrapped up when Laich swatted in a rebound of Alex Ovechkin's point shot on a two-man advantage for a 3-2 lead with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. But Jussi Jokinen scored at 18:41 of the third period to tie the game.
Carolina, playing its second game in as many nights, wanted to slow the contest to a plodding pace and the Capitals didn't help their own cause at the start, squandering two early power-play chances and mustering only two shots on the man advantage.
But Washington began to dictate play in the second period. The Capitals took up residence in the offensive zone, holding the Hurricanes to one shot through the first six minutes. Eight minutes in, consecutive shifts by the fourth and first lines hemmed the Hurricanes in their zone so thoroughly that the crowd seemed to sense a goal on the horizon.
Despite the lopsided tone of the game, it was Carolina that struck first, 12:16 into the second period, while John Carlson was in the box for tripping. Staal didn't miss a wide-open net after a cross-ice pass from Jokinen forced Neuvirth to move from right to left. Also on the play, there appeared to be miscommunication between Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik, who wound up on the opposite sides of the ice from those they usually patrol.
Just over two minutes later, the Capitals responded as Carlson saw Semin find open space through the neutral zone and sent an outlet pass to the Russian winger, who scored on the breakaway with a pretty backhand shot to tie the score at 1. It was Semin's 43rd career point against the Hurricanes, more than he has scored against any other team.
Washington kept pressing. Jason Chimera sped down the wing after Karl Alzner swatted the puck out of the defensive zone and Joel Ward chipped it down the boards to his linemate, who shoveled the puck over Boucher's shoulder to make it 2-1 with 20 seconds remaining in the second.
In the midst of the crowd's celebration, though, Carlson was whistled for delay of game after accidentally knocking the puck over the glass when trying to smack it out of midair. The penalty proved costly.
When the third period began, it appeared as though Washington was caught off guard by the Carolina power play and less than 18 seconds in the score was tied again. Left open in the right faceoff circle, Staal scored his second goal of the game.
Neuvirth was a steadying presence early on, and it was difficult to place exclusive blame for any of the Hurricanes' on the 23-year-old netminder. Neuvirth was given the nod in the season opener over highly touted free-agent pickup Tomas Vokoun, who was caught off guard when he learned he wouldn't be in goal Saturday night.
Vokoun, 35, found out Friday that he wouldn't start against the Hurricanes.
"They just said Michal [Neuvirth] had a good camp and they want to have that recognized," said Vokoun, who is scheduled to start Monday against Tampa Bay.