WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals have reached the first of what they hope will be many milestones this season.
Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 42nd goal with 3:22 left in overtime, and the Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 Tuesday.
With the win, Washington (50-14-5) became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season.
"It's certainly unexpected with this many games left," said winger Justin Williams, "but it's a tribute to how we've played, and we're proud of where we sit, but not proud enough to rest on our laurels."
Also important Tuesday night was Ovechkin lighting the lamp after going without a goal in his last five games, his longest slump of the season.
Evgeny Kuznetsov set up the game-winner from behind the end line, feeding out in front to Ovechkin, who fired high over the right shoulder of Carolina goalie Eddie Lack moments after Lack had managed to deflect Ovechkin's shot on the rush.
"It's nice to get a goal, especially in overtime," Ovechkin said. "I thought I had him on first shot."
The goal survived a replay review to determine whether or not the Capitals were offside on the rush.
"Probably we should still be out there in some form or fashion," Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said after the game, indicating his view of the call.
"I thought it was offsides, but I'm not the ref and I'm not going to yell at them," added Carolina's Brett Pesce, who was on the ice. "It's not my place to do that. It's just a tough, tough situation."
Williams and Carolina's Jordan Staal traded second-period goals in a tight-checking game that resembled a postseason contest.
"They play a playoff style hockey. It's grind it out. You're not going to get too many odd-man rushes on them," Washington's Jay Beagle said.
Braden Holtby, setting a Capitals record for regular-season wins with 42, stopped 25 shots. Lack made 29 saves.
Carolina (31-26-13) began play five points out of the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot. The Hurricanes have picked up at least a point in each of their past six games (3-0-3).
The Capitals have now scored three goals or fewer in each of their past 12 games, and coach Barry Trotz made some line changes.
Right winger Beagle joined Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line, with T.J. Oshie moving to the second line with Andre Burakovsky and Kuznetsov. That put right winger Williams alongside Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson.
"There's no indictment on anybody in terms of moving up or down," Trotz said. "Really what it is is trying to get people back focused on the right areas..."
Backstrom nearly gave the Capitals an early 1-0 lead, but his rebound attempt of an Ovechkin shot caromed off the crossbar at 2:26 of what ended up a scoreless first period. The Capitals clanged two other shots off the iron in the first 20 minutes.
"We were playing right way, sometimes you're not going to find the back of the net," Trotz said. "I'll take that start most nights."
Washington went up 1-0 at 1:30 of the second period when Chimera centered the puck from the left corner, and Williams, a former Hurricane, redirected it past Lack for his 21st goal.
The Hurricanes tied it on a great individual effort by Staal. He carried into the Washington zone and with a defender draped on him, then tried to shoot. The Capitals were unable to control the loose puck, but Staal eventually did and went top shelf on Holtby at 10:50.
"I was fortunate enough to get it towards the net there," Staal said. "I think [Brooks Orpik] did a good job of getting his stick on my first shot. It kind of ended up back on my stick and I was fortunate enough to get it in."
NOTES: The Capitals began the night 12 points ahead of the Stars and Blues in the NHL points race. ... Carolina recalled D Trevor Carrick from Charlotte of the American Hockey League. ... D Ron Hainsey was scratched for Carolina. ... The Hurricanes began play having killed off 32 of their last 35 penalties (91.4 percent). ... The Capitals last lost three straight regular-season games from Feb. 22 to Feb. 27, 2015. ... Washington RW Stanislav Galiev, C Michael Latta and D Mike Weber were scratched. ... The Hurricanes continue their five-game road swing Thursday at Pittsburgh.