RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- First, Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Then, he posted his first regular-season shutout.
Carolina's star goalie is seemingly reaching his career goals in reverse order, and Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette doesn't seem to mind.
"Working backwards a little bit," Laviolette said. "But that's OK. We're happy with the order."
Ward, the MVP of the Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup title last season, had two shutouts in the 2006 playoffs.
In the best regular-season performance of his career, Ward said he picked up momentum midway through the second period when the Hurricanes, leading 1-0, killed off Washington's two-man advantage, which lasted 2:18, and went on to a lopsided win.
"Up until that five-on-three, I didn't see a whole lot of shots," Ward said. "It can really change the momentum of a game if you kill that off."
Cole kept the pressure on Capitals goalie Brent Johnson,
recording his fourth career hat trick and first since an 8-2 win over Montreal on Jan. 31, 2006.
It was also his first multigoal game since March 4 against Pittsburgh, but that's a game Cole would probably rather forget. Later in that one, he was run over from behind by Brooks Orpik, breaking his neck in an injury that cost Cole three months.
"I felt like I was just racing up and down the ice" in the first period, Cole said. "As the game went on, I kind of slowed down a bit and tried to make more plays rather than sprint up the ice. Pucks were going in the net."
The Hurricanes scored on their first shot on goal when Walker burst down the right side on a two-on-two rush and passed to Cole, who tapped the puck past Johnson at 5:47 of the first period.
"We spotted them a goal we shouldn't have, and then we had to battle back," Washington forward Chris Clark said.
Cole added his second goal on the power play with just under two minutes left in the second period. Staal took a pass from Bret Hedican beyond the right circle and blasted a shot that struck Cole and got past Johnson.
Cole completed the hat trick when his short backhand beat Johnson at 14:39 of the third period for his sixth goal of the season.
"On any given night, it's somebody who chips in and helps out for us," Laviolette said. "Tonight, Colesy was the guy who scored the goals."
Johnson finished with 34 saves for the Capitals, who had their first two-game winning streak of the season snapped.
"From our standpoint, I think we'll look back at this night as a good night as far as our progress is concerned," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. "With the exception of [Johnson], because I know how it is to have goals scored on you, this is a lot better for us to lose this game 5-0 than for [Johnson] to make four more incredible saves and walk out of here kidding ourselves that it was a 1-0 hockey game."
Staal and Letowski gave the Hurricanes some breathing room by scoring three minutes apart midway through the third period. It was Staal's team-leading 10th goal of the season.
The Hurricanes, one of the NHL's best teams on home ice last season, were just happy to see some familiar surroundings. They spent most of the season's first month on the road and played only their sixth game at the RBC Center, where they improved to 3-2-1.
They kept Washington's offense in check. The Capitals went nearly 15 minutes between shots on goal during a stretch in the first and second periods, and Carolina finished with 39 shots to the Capitals' 20.
"We didn't move," said Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, whose scoring streak was snapped at four games. "We didn't control the puck."
Cole has recorded points in three straight games. ... Before the game, the Capitals recalled defenseman John Erskine from their AHL affiliate in Hershey. He logged nearly 17 minutes of ice time. ... The Capitals ended their three-game winless streak against Carolina when they won 5-2 on Oct. 7 in the only previous meeting of the season. ... Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason
(shoulder) missed his fifth straight game. Defenseman David Tanabe was a healthy scratch. Scratches for Washington were defenseman Jamie Heward and centers Brooks Laich and Kris Beech.