OTTAWA – It wasn't their prettiest victory of the season, but the Ottawa Senators moved two points closer to a playoff berth Tuesday night by holding off the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 at Scotiabank Place.
"We won, which was outstanding," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "I don't think we played particularly well, especially through the second half of the game, but we did enough."
Carolina, which trailed 2-0 and 3-1, made it close when Eric Staal scored during a 5-on-3 power play goal with 4:30 left in regulation, but the Senators were able to hold on. Justin Faulk also scored for the Hurricanes (17-23-2) while Mika Zibanejad, Milan Michalek and Chris Neil had goals for the Senators (22-14-6).
Craig Anderson made 32 saves for his second win since returning from his ankle injury. Justin Peters turned away 31 of 34 shots.
The win gives Ottawa 50 points and keeps the Senators in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the New York Islanders. Ottawa trails the fifth-place Toronto Maple Leafs by three points.
Tuesday marked the return of defenseman Jared Cowen, who made his season debut after requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip in November. Cowen quickly made his presence felt when he leveled Jeff Skinner with a huge hit at center ice 13 minutes into the game. Skinner lay on the ice holding his head; he managed to leave under his own power but did not return.
Chad LaRose took exception and instigated a fight with Cowen, earning an extra two minutes and a 10-minute misconduct in the process. It was one of five scraps between the teams.
Cowen, who also exchanged punches with Kevin Westgarth in the second period, finished the game with two fights, four hits and 16:45 minutes of ice time.
"It felt to get back out there, hit some bodies and bang around," Cowen said. "The game plan for me was to get some bumps and make me feel more comfortable. I got a couple more bumps than I was expecting. I'm not complaining; I'm surprised that's the way it went down. It's not a big deal. I think it's the first two=fight game I've had since [I played with the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs].
"[The hit on Skinner] was something we talked about, just shadowing the guy as he comes across the middle. It's just part of our forecheck. I think the game changed at that point. It's something that's been missing from our game for a while, so I was glad I could do that."
Westgarth expressed concern for his teammate after the game. Skinner, who has a history of concussions, sustained an upper-body injury, according to the Hurricanes.
"I hate seeing guys get hit in the head," Westgarth said. "It looked like [Cowen] might have dinged him there a bit. Hockey's a fast game. Sometimes [things] happen, and it's not going to be accepted by anyone on our team when you see one of your buddies, especially a guy like Skinner, who's a young, skilled player [get hurt.] I think you saw the reaction that was warranted and elicited in the boys."
After pressing for several minutes, the Senators went ahead with 2:38 left in the first period. Cory Conacher skated the puck around the net and passed out front to Zibanejad, who rifled the shot past Peters' glove for his seventh of the season. The goal ended a 14-game drought for the Swedish rookie, who had not scored since March 13.
Ottawa made it 2-0 six minutes into the second period when Michalek pulled off a toe-drag of the puck around Jamie McBain in the left circle and snapped a high shot past Peters. Michalek has two goals in the past two games since returning from his knee injury.
Carolina managed to get on the board four minutes later, when a wrist shot by Faulk in the high slot hit Anderson's glove and dribbled into the net at 10:00. Eric Staal had an assist on the goal, giving him assists in four consecutive games.
The Senators regained a two-goal lead at 12:12 after a turnover by McBain was picked up by Guillaume Latendresse. He into the Hurricanes' zone and fed a pass that Neil tipped past Peters for his first goal since Feb. 5.
Anderson preserved the lead with a pair of tremendous saves near the 15-minute mark. He used his left pad to stop a point-blank blast by Jordan Staal, then stacked his pads and used his glove to stop defenseman Joe Corvo from just to the left of the net.
Despite being on the outside of the playoff race, Westgarth insists that the team is not going to throw in the towel.
"As frustrating as it's been through these past few weeks, it's great to see that no one has turned on each other and the guys are still sticking together," Westgarth said. "I know that may just seem like lip service, but as this team moves forward, we've got a huge core here, so it's great to see that element take hold, and everyone backing each other up. Guys from top to bottom are stepping up physically to show that we're not going to be messed with."
"We've got a lot of fight left in us," Faulk said. "No pun intended."