Washington shut out in a game it needed

Time is quickly slipping away from the Capitals. They followed a lost weekend with an uneven performance against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. It was one they could ill afford.

Former Washington defenseman Joe Corvo banked in a goal off the mask of goalie Braden Holtby just 3:55 into the game and that was enough for Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters, who blanked the Caps for the second time in as many starts. His previous shutout against them came Feb. 20, 2012, in Raleigh.

The 4-0 Carolina victory before a sullen crowd at Verizon Center may have put the Southeast Division out of reach for Washington, which fell 10 points behind in the division race and is seven points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with just 23 games remaining.

"I think it was pretty bad from our side. Just embarrassing, I think," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "Our effort is not good enough. Especially if you're gonna hunt that playoff spot, you can't play like this. We've gotta be better than this."

The Caps (10-14-1, 21 points), who have now lost three games in a row, had plenty of quality scoring chances throughout the first period and early in the second. But Marcus Johansson botched a tap-in early in the game after a fine pass from teammate Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer was stoned by Peters on a breakaway in the second period.

The same couldn't be said of the Hurricanes. Riley Nash, a 24-year-old forward playing in his 16th NHL game, added a pair of goals in the second period. He had one career goal to his name entering the night. Patrick Dwyer had an empty-net goal with 1:21 left to seal it.

Peters improved to 3-1 against Washington with those two shutouts. Carolina's backup goalie has just 13 NHL wins to his name, but he has a 1.49 goals-against average against the Caps and has stopped 103 of 109 shots (.945 save percentage).

"I think we've been talking about this for the last 15 games that we're a desperate team," forward Matt Hendricks said. "Losing three in a row at this time in the season in our situation stings a lot."

The loss was a reversal of fortune from a 3-0 Washington win two weeks ago over the Hurricanes, who played that game without three of their top four defenseman. The favor was returned on Tuesday. The Caps were again missing defensemen Mike Green (groin), John Erskine (upper-body injury) and Tom Poti (upper-body injury). In their place rookie Cameron Schilling made his NHL debut and skated with Steve Oleksy, who himself made his NHL debut last week.

"I would have not used [the word fragile] for a while, but obviously after a game like tonight and the last little stretch, yeah, we're probably feeling it a little bit," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "We need some good things to happen, but we've got to earn that. We've got to do it ourselves."

The only silver lining was the Caps can get those two points back immediately. The two teams meet again in Raleigh on Thursday. Carolina (15-9-1, 31 points) has a five-point advantage over second-place Winnipeg in the Southeast. Washington is in fourth place in the division and 14th in the Eastern Conference.

"It's a game that we need to win [Thursday] and we've got to turn it around. We've got to get the points," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We've got to get back in the race and now every game's important. Not just this next one. ... We need to win them all."