WASHINGTON -- When contemplating the various ways that the surging Carolina Hurricanes could bury the slumping Washington Capitals, a shutout by Justin Peters would not be anywhere near the top of the list.
Sure enough, it happened Tuesday night.
Called up to the big club last week after Cam Ward went down with a knee injury, Peters made 26 saves as the Hurricanes blanked the Capitals 4-0, taking the first leg of a key home-and-home series between the Southeast Division rivals.
"You're not going to fill Cam's void. Obviously, he's a top goalie in this league," said Peters, whose only previous NHL shutout also came against the Capitals -- a 5-0 win on Feb. 20, 2012. "The only way we can try and fill it is a group effort from everyone in this room, and that's been our mindset the whole time."
Riley Nash scored twice -- thereby tripling his career NHL total -- ex-Washington defenseman Joe Corvo put one in off the goaltender's mask, and Patrick Dwyer added an empty-net goal for the Hurricanes, who have won six of seven and have a 10-point lead over the Capitals, whose struggles are one of the big surprises of the lockout-shortened season.
"I think if you watched them play tonight, it seems like they're missing maybe some confidence," Corvo said. "They're struggling a little bit."
Hard to argue with that. The Capitals have lost three straight -- all by at least a three-goal margin.
"Just embarrassing, I think," Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. "Our effort is not good enough. Especially if you're going to hunt that playoff spot, you can't play like this."
The Capitals were hoping to get back in the race with a sweep of the Hurricanes this week. Instead, the best they can do is a split when they visit Carolina on Thursday.
"You want to try and create space there," Peters said. "We were focused on tonight, coming in here and trying to do that. We've got to regroup now and try and have the same mindset coming into Thursday."
Bad penalties haunted the Capitals in their last two losses, but all of the Hurricanes' scoring came at even strength. The first one involved a pair of former Capitals -- Corvo and Alexander Semin.
Corvo was near the boards when his shot along the goal line struck goalie Braden Holtby in the back and went in. Semin, booed throughout the game by fans frustrated by his moody play during seven seasons in Washington, had the primary assist.
"I was aiming for like the back of him, his back, anywhere up there," Corvo said. "And it just so happened to hit his head."
Semin went down twice early in the second period but stayed in the game. The first time came when he was struck by good friend Alex Ovechkin, who was taking a shot and hit Semin in the face with his stick during the follow-through. It was the most noteworthy moment of the night for Ovechkin, who didn't register a shot on goal.
Nash deflected Jay Harrison's shot from the edge of the left circle to make it 2-0 in the second period. Nash got his second goal later in the period after Dwyer outhustled Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz to the puck to prevent an icing call. Nash trailed the play and was in the slot to take Dwyer's pass for the easy shot past Holtby.
Peters, who is sharing duties with Dan Ellis while Ward is sidelined, was on the top of his game. He made a reflex pad save on Marcus Johansson in the second period and later stymied Troy Brouwer on a short-handed breakaway.
The Hurricanes' blue line was injury-depleted when they were shut out 3-0 by the Capitals on Feb. 26. The reverse scenario played out Tuesday, with injuries forcing Washington to use three defensemen who began the season in the minors.
"It was kind of a twist of the last time we came in with all our injuries and all that, and such a young defense corps," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "We emphasized that we wanted to get pucks behind their D."
Tom Poti (upper body), John Erskine (upper body) and Mike Green (groin) are among the injured Washington defensemen. D Cameron Schilling, recalled from Hershey of the AHL, made his NHL debut and joined Tomas Kundratek and Steve Oleksy as the Capitals blue liners who started the season in Hershey. ... Oleksy delivered a rarity -- a good punch in a hockey fight. He rattled Drayson Bowman with a right hand to the face in the third period.