RALEIGH, N.C. -- With his latest milestone within reach, Alex Ovechkin caught himself pressing and overthinking his play.
All of a sudden, his path to history was clear.
"I had a couple of chances to score, and they were good ones, but maybe I tried to make more moves than I usually do," Ovechkin said. "[An] empty-netter is [an] empty-netter. Of course I [thought] about it, but it's over and it's time to move on."
Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and John Carlson scored with the man advantage and Nicklas Backstrom assisted on all four goals to help the second-place Capitals win for the fifth time in their last seven games.
Ovechkin's empty-netter with 24.5 seconds left in his 634th career game made him the sixth-fastest player in NHL history to reach No. 400 and the seventh active player with that many.
"As we all know, he's a pretty good goal-scorer," Backstrom said. "It's always fun to see a player accomplish something big and I think 400 goals in however many games he has, it's great. We all know he's a great player."
The Hurricanes had earned at least a point in six of their previous seven games. But they've dropped four of five with the loss to the Caps.
"Five-on-5, we were all over them," Staal said. "We were the better team, 5-on-5. But three power-play goals, you can't let that happen. That's not good enough, obviously, and that's how you lose games."
The Capitals have the league's second-best power-play unit with a success rate of nearly 25 percent. They converted all three of their chances in the second.
"You don't want to have to rely on it, but whenever it's going to power you through games, absolutely you want to rely on it," Brouwer said of the power play.
A fortunate bounce helped the Capitals reclaim the lead at 3-2 with 4:31 left in the period: Mike Green broke his stick while dribbling a shot up the middle that clipped Brouwer on its way past Ward.
"When it comes slower, obviously I get a better touch on it," Brouwer said. "I had my stick halfway up my body thinking it was going to be a higher shot because that's where he usually likes to shoot. It's almost a weird adjustment where you don't ever practice having to put your stick back down on the ice."
That capped a big period for the Capitals' power play.
Johansson tied it 41 seconds into the second when he stuffed the puck between Ward's left leg and the post.
Carlson put the Capitals up 2-1 with 11:26 left -- and just 14 seconds into a holding minor on Tuomo Ruutu -- when his straightaway blast from just inside the blue line got past Ward.
Carolina, which has the league's third-worst power play, made it 2-all 2:42 later by scoring on the man advantage, with Nash making the most of Andrej Sekera's rebound.
But it couldn't convert late after Carlson went off for hooking with 4:50 to play, despite peppering Grubauer with a barrage of shots from close range.
The Hurricanes were playing for the first time since Dec. 14, when they wrapped up a four-point, four-game western swing with a win at Phoenix.
Staal put the Hurricanes up 1-0 with 2:48 left in the first when he scored on a one-touch pass from Semin, who played seven years with the Capitals before signing with Carolina in July 2012.
"We did a good job of getting after him and getting shots and getting opportunities," Staal said. "We just didn't bury them."
The Hurricanes scratched D Mike Komisarek (lower-body injury) after activating him from injured reserve earlier in the day. ... Semin's point was his first since his Dec. 12 return from a concussion that cost him 12 games.