Laviolette: Games vs. Carolina have 'brought out the best' in Caps

Kuznetsov vs. Carolina

The Hurricanes came into Capital One Arena and cruised past the Capitals for a five-goal victory on Monday night, but that result was an outlier for what's transpired when the two teams have taken the ice together this season.

Washington and Carolina faced one another four times during the regular season, with the Capitals winning the first three before Monday night's loss. Head coach Peter Laviolette is not surprised Washington plays some of its best hockey against Carolina, either.

"The 'Canes games, they've definitely brought out the best in us," Laviolette said on 106.7 The Fan's The Sports Junkies on Friday.

The first meeting between the Capitals and Hurricanes came all the way back in December, a contest in which Washington won, 4-2. The other three games have all come in the past month, with Washington winning 4-0 on March 2 and 4-3 on March 18, the second victory via a shootout.

Looking back at Washington's matchups with Carolina, Laviolette was especially impressed with his team's play during the second and third meetings between the two squads.

"The first three games we played them, I really liked the way we played against them -- especially the middle two," Laviolette said. "The second game and the third game, I thought we were really competitive and thought we played a really good team -- a top-two, top-three team in the league -- the right way.


The Capitals were unable to complete the season sweep, though, as Carolina came out motivated on Monday night and jumped out to an early lead, one they would not relinquish.

"I think [the Hurricanes] came out and tried to reverse [how the season has gone against Washington] in the first period last game," Laviolette said. "You've got to fight for every inch of ice out there, compete like crazy against that team. I think it's brought out the best in us and some of our best games. When you don't play to that level, you probably don't like the game or the period or whatever it is."

Although Monday night's game was lopsided in Carolina's favor, it was still full of drama. Tom Wilson got into a bout with Brendan Smith -- a fight that ended in Wilson's favor. Then with just two seconds remaining, Capitals center Lars Eller delivered a hit on Hurricanes center Jesperi Kotkamiemi -- a blow that Carolina's locker room was quite bitter about after the game.

Related: What would a Capitals-Hurricanes playoff matchup look like

Although the two teams won't face off again in the regular season, Washington and Carolina are on pace to play one another in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If that occurs, Laviolette is confident in his squad -- especially because of how they've played them over the past month.

"There's definitely something brewing there. That could certainly be a first-round matchup," Laviolette said. "The fact that we've played Carolina a lot here late in the year, we'll probably rely heavily on those games that we've played against them and see what we did."

While a first-round matchup with Carolina seems likely, the Capitals' head coach made it clear the team's sole focus right now is continuing to play well over the final few weeks of the regular season.

"For right now, we've just got to make sure we continue to win, take care of our business and keep pushing forward the last 14 games," Laviolette said.