Andrei Nikolishin scored with 8:47 left as Washington extended its unbeaten streak to 12 straight with yet another one-goal victory Saturday night.
"We've got to take a page from Washington's book," Carolina's Jeff O'Neill said. "They're unbeaten in 12 games because they stay patient and play their system.
"They play an outstanding team game," O'Neill added. "Everybody knows their role and they do it well. Their skill players make plays and their other guys get the puck in deep. They play in their own end as good as anybody I've seen all year. They are the best team in the league right now and they showed us why tonight."
The streak by the Capitals (10-0-2) matched Phoenix and St. Louis for tops in the NHL this season, and is the team's best since 1984.
Washington also extended its road unbeaten streak to seven straight and hasn't lost since Jan. 27 at Montreal.
"We've built confidence after every game and there's no reason to think we would lose any after this one. We even gained some more," Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig said.
Carolina's three-game home winning streak was snapped as the Hurricanes fell 11 points behind Southeast Division-leading Washington with 21 games left.
"We won two games this week against Atlanta and New Jersey, but the bottom line is we didn't play very well," O'Neill said. "We have to realize we're not just going to float into the playoffs. We've got to develop a consistency and a work ethic every night."
"We put lots of pressure on him," Nikolishin said of Washington's 30 shots on Irbe. "He gives up some free bounces and we got a lot of scoring opportunities. My goal was an example of that."
Washington has been clutch all season in close games, improving to 16-4-0-1 in one-goal contests.
"We knew Carolina was coming up behind us and it has actually been good because they've pushed us and it has been a challenge," Kolzig said.
The Hurricanes had one final chance on the power play, but David Tanabe hit the right post with 6:13 remaining.
Carolina generated little offense before rookie Shane Willis scored his sixth goal in the last three games, blasting a shot from the right wing over the glove of Kolzig two minutes into the second.
The Capitals tied it late in the second on the power play as Peter Bondra got his team-leading 36th, getting a low shot past Irbe, who had been spectacular until then.
It was the ninth straight game Washington scored at least one goal with the man advantage.
Adam Oates helped on Bondra's goal for his NHL-leading 50th assist. He also extended his point streak to 10 straight games - his best since joining the Capitals in 1996-97.
Carolina was held to one shot in the opening 18:04 before getting four on a late power play to finally test Kolzig.
"We took their time and space away and had an absolutely outstanding game," Washington coach Ron Wilson said. "The only reason it was close was the play of Irbe."
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