WASHINGTON -- After starting the season with two wins in their first 11 games the Capitals knew their road to a sixth straight playoff appearance would be steep and treacherous.
They continued that climb Tuesday night when center Nicklas Backstrom scored one goal and set up defenseman John Erskine for another in a hard-fought 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
Defenseman John Carlson also scored for the Capitals, who played a strong game in front of goaltender Braden Holtby, who picked up his second shutout of the season and fifth of his career.
The Capitals' win was their second straight over a top-eight team in the Eastern Conference and improved them to 5-2-0 in their last seven games. They are 7-10-1 overall.
The Hurricanes (9-8-1) lost for the fourth time in five games.
All eyes were on Hurricanes right wing Alexander Semin at the start of the game. The former Capitals star recorded 197 goals in his first seven seasons in Washington before signing a one-year, $7 million contract with the Canes last summer.
Semin was booed every time he touched the puck but brought the fans to the edge of their seats with a shorthanded breakaway less than 3 minutes into the game. Goaltender Braden Holtby got his pad on Semin's wrist shot to keep the game scoreless and get the fans on their feet.
A few minutes later a Jussi Jokinen holding penalty on Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals their second power play of the night and Nicklas Backstrom converted at the 7:21 mark.
The Caps' power play entered the game with 12 power-play goals in their previous nine games and some precision passing from Mike Green to Ovechkin to Mike Ribeiro allowed Backstrom to free himself in the slot, where he deposited a pass from Ribeiro past Cam Ward for his second goal of the season.
Washington made it 2-0 just 31 seconds into the second period when Backstrom feathered a cross-ice pass to defenseman John Erskine, who blasted a heavy slapshot off Ward's right pad and into the net for his second goal of the season and first ever in 28 career games against Carolina.
NOTES: The Hurricanes have been outscored 21-7 in first periods this season. ... The Hurricanes were without center Jeff Skinner (concussion), defenseman Jamie McBain (upper body) and defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body). ... Capitals defenseman Mike Green returned to the lineup after missing the previous three games with a lower body injury. Green took the place of Jeff Schultz, who was a healthy scratch. ... The Capitals' power-play goal in the first period marked the ninth time in 10 games they've scored on the man-advantage. ... The Hurricanes return home for their next two games, facing the Penguins on Thursday and the Panthers on Saturday. The Capitals hit the road for their next two, visiting the Flyers on Wednesday and the Jets on Saturday.