After getting killed by several slow starts, the Ottawa Senators got out of the gate quickly against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Senators scored three first-period goals, two in a 46-second span, then rode the goaltending of Alex Auld to deal a blow to the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes with a 4-2 victory Tuesday.
Ottawa (23-27-9) had fallen behind in each of the past three games – all losses. But a season-low crowd of 16,541 – the Senators’ lowest attendance since 2003 – saw Dany Heatley notch his 30th goal of the season as part of an opening outburst in the opening 20 minutes that ultimately decided the contest.
“We talked about it a lot the last couple of days,” said Heatley, who reached the 30-goal mark for the fifth time in his seven NHL seasons and fourth year in a row. “We came out, scored some goals and took the momentum right away.”
Hurricanes starter Cam Ward was the victim of the outburst. He gave up three goals on nine shots before being pulled to start the second. His replacement, Michael Leighton, then gave up a power-play goal to Jason Spezza shortly after entering the game and the Hurricanes (31-26-5) couldn’t recover.
“We outshot them by a ton, we gave up four goals on 11 shots. I didn’t think they were that good. I didn’t think we were that good,” said thoroughly unimpressed Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.
“I’m not looking at Cam Ward and saying, ‘Hey, that’s your fault,’ but he didn’t stop enough, we didn’t score enough and that’s the game.”
Chris Kelly and Mike Comrie, acquired from the New York Islanders along with defenceman Chris Campoli in a trade last Friday, also scored and Auld finished with 41 saves for Ottawa.
It was a good start to an eight-game homestand for the Senators against one of the teams they need to leapfrog in order to have any hope of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The win gave 12th-place Ottawa 55 points, 13 behind eight-place Buffalo after the Sabres were beaten by the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.
Daniel Alfredsson and Antoine Vermette each chipped in with a pair of assists.
Patrick Eaves and Anton Babchuk replied for Carolina, which had its three-game win streak stopped. The Hurricanes failed to take advantage of Buffalo’s loss and Boston’s win over the seventh-place Florida Panthers.
They remain ninth in the East, one point behind the Sabres and Panthers.
“It would have been a good night for us to get some points on all those teams that we’re chasing,” Eaves said. “We got a lot of shots, but didn’t score on our opportunities.”
The loss put an end to Carolina’s road win streak at four games. The Hurricanes haven’t won five in a row away from home since Oct. 22 to Nov. 15, 2005.
Heatley started Ottawa off on the right foot when he finished off a 2-on-1 break with Alfredsson at the 14:03 mark of the first.
Before the goal could even be announced, Eaves, a former Senator, tied it when he fired a shot from a bad angle that struck Auld in the side of the pad and bounced in.
But 29 seconds after that, Vermette forced a turnover as Carolina tried to break out of its own zone. He found Kelly alone in front of the net and Kelly lifted a shot over Ward’s glove.
“That showed a lot of resilience on our part,” Auld said.
Then, with 10.1 seconds left in the first, Comrie, in his second stint with the Senators, recorded his eighth goal of the season and first back in an Ottawa uniform when he faked a slapshot and slipped the puck through Ward’s pads.
It proved to be the game winner and Ward’s last involvement of the night.
“It was nice to see that one go in because you want to fit in right away, especially in a win,” Comrie said.
Ward was replaced by Leighton to start the second and Spezza welcomed him by slipping a bad-angle shot past him on the power play to make it 4-1 less than two minutes into the period. Leighton made 12 saves the rest of the way.
Babchuk cut the lead to 4-2 with the Hurricanes enjoying the man advantage late in the period.
Carolina fired 16 shots at Auld in the third, but couldn’t get any closer.
“We had a lot of shots,” Eaves said. “Those crazy 40 seconds (in the first). It would have been nice to not let them score back on us.”
Notes: Next up for the Senators is the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks, who visit Ottawa on Thursday. With Senators general manager Bryan Murray stating Monday he has too many bodies available, defencemen Brendan Bell, Christoph Schubert and Alexandre Picard were all healthy scratches. Carolina returns home to play host to Buffalo on Thursday.