In the closing seconds of Monday’s 6-1 loss, Capitals center Lars Eller made a hit on Carolina forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi that sent the latter to the ice, down injured.
Kotkaniemi circled back toward the half-wall in the offensive zone and was unsuspecting when he took the hit from Eller, who was given a two-minute charging penalty on the play with just 1.8 seconds left.
Kotkaniemi then struggled to get back to the bench, unable to put much weight on his left leg. Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour didn’t know the extent of his injury immediately after the game, but commented that it wasn’t good.
The Hurricanes weren’t happy by the play, which might keep Kotkaniemi out of the lineup for a stretch of time, especially with a month left before the playoffs.
"I don't know what to say,” Carolina forward Martin Necas said. “For me, that's just so stupid. I don't know even who hit him, but whoever it was, it's a 6-1 game, one second left and (Eller) does that. He tries to be a hero or whatever. I don't know. I have no words for that. It's just ridiculous."
As most matchups this season have gone between the Hurricanes and Capitals, it was a quarrelsome affair from start to finish that included a few post-whistle scrums and a fight between Tom Wilson and Brendan Smith in the third period.
The ending, though, left a sour taste in the mouth of the Hurricanes.
“I don’t know how bad, but he’s definitely going to be out,” Brind’Amour said. “The game was over. Let’s just get it over with. Two seconds left. I don’t like it. But nothing you can do about it.”
Aside from the end-game fireworks, the Hurricanes earned their first win over the Capitals this season in what might be a playoff preview in a month’s time.
Carolina scored the first two goals in the first eight minutes, then ended the game with four goals to put the exclamation point on a dominating victory in Washington.
"We played more in their zone than they play in ours, which the games before against them, it wasn't really like that,” Necas said. “Finally — finally, I feel like the first game out of those four when we play actually like our team."
As of Monday night, the Hurricanes have a one-point lead over the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Which, in turn, means a playoff date with the Capitals, who are currently in the final Wild Card spot.
"I think every game from now till the playoffs is gearing up for the real stage,” Hurricanes forward Max Domi said. “Yeah, every game's big. It doesn't really matter who it's against. Obviously, that's a good team over there. We know that. We were good tonight, so we'll take the win and got to get ready for the next one tomorrow against Tampa."