WASHINGTON -- The Carolina Hurricanes aren't just taking control of the Southeast Division. They're trying to run away with it.
They're even getting big efforts from players who are hardly considered impact performers.
Rookie forward Riley Nash scored two goals, journeyman defenseman Joe Corvo scored another, and third-string goalie Justin Peters recorded the second shutout of his NHL career as the Hurricanes distanced themselves from the Washington Capitals with a 4-0 win Tuesday at the Verizon Center.
The win was the Hurricanes' sixth in seven games and gave them 31 points with a 15-9-1 record.
"You can't take anything for granted," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "That was one of our strongest 60-minute performances this year, and in a big game, that's great."
The Capitals (10-14-1) lost for the third straight time and are now 10 points behind the Hurricanes (15-9-1). Carolina holds a three-point edge over the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast race.
"I think it was pretty bad from our side," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "It's embarrassing, I think. Our effort is not good enough. If you're going to hunt for that playoff spot, you can't play like this. We've got to be better than that."
Peters, who was recalled from the AHL Charlotte Checkers on March 5 when Hurricanes starter Cam Ward went down with a knee injury, turned aside all 26 shots for his first shutout since blanking the Capitals on Feb. 20, 2012. His biggest save came midway through the second period when, with a 2-0 lead, he closed his pads on a Troy Brouwer breakaway.
"It's a lot of fun just to get an opportunity to play in this league," said Peters, who was starting ahead of backup Dan Ellis and improved to 2-1-1 this season. "Every time I get an opportunity, I want to try to take advantage of it. We played an awesome game tonight right from the drop of the puck to the last buzzer."
Carolina grabbed a 1-0 lead on one of the team's weirdest goals of the season.
Corvo, who spent a brief stint with the Caps in 2009-10, netted his fourth goal of the season 3:55 into the game when he lumbered down the right side of the ice and threw a shot toward the Capitals net from the goal line. The puck bounced off the back of goaltender Braden Holtby's head and into the cage for a 1-0 lead.
"It was pretty creative on his part," said Holtby, who fell to 9-9-0. "I never saw anyone try that. It caught me off guard."
The Hurricanes built on that lead 5:55 into the second period when Nash, playing in just his 16th NHL game, deflected a shot from Jay Harrison past Holtby for his second goal of the season and third of his career.
Nash wasn't done, though. With 1:34 remaining in the second period, Carolina forward Patrick Dwyer rode Capitals rookie defenseman Cameron Schilling off the puck from behind the net and fed Nash for a one-timer, giving Nash the first two-goal game of his career.
The Hurricanes iced it with 1:21 remaining in the game when Dwyer scored a short-handed, empty-net goal. With the Capitals on the power play and Holtby pulled for an extra attacker, Dwyer scooped up a bouncing puck from Capitals defenseman John Carlson and scored into the empty cage to seal the win.
The Hurricanes have a chance to go 12 points up on the Capitals on Thursday night in Raleigh when the two teams play again.
"We knew these two games were going to be pretty big games for us," Nash said. "Anytime you play a division rival, you want to put some distance between them."
NOTES: With Capitals defensemen Mike Green (groin), John Erskine (upper body), Tom Poti (upper body) and Jack Hillen (upper body) sidelined by injuries, Schilling made his NHL debut and played on a third defense pairing with fellow rookie Steve Oleksy, who played in his fifth NHL game. The Hurricanes were without Ward (knee), forward Chad LaRose (concussion) and defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body). ... In his previous nine games, Backstrom had two goals and eight assists. He was held without a point Tuesday. ... Hurricanes forward and former Capital Alexander Semin entered the game with 10 points in his last five games, and he picked up his first point against his old team with a first-period assist.