"We almost kept them off the scoresheet," Ward said.
The loss -- combined with New Jersey's 3-1 victory against the Islanders -- means that the Senators can finish no higher than seventh in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa leads eighth-place Washington by four points and needs one more to lock up seventh and a first-round meeting with Boston, which comes to Scotiabank Place on Thursday.
"Most of the games when you're playing from behind the results are not going to be what you like," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "They were obviously more competitive than we were and I think we got what we deserved."
Brandon Sutter and Tuomo Ruutu scored in the second period for the Hurricanes. Jason Spezza scored his 33rd of the season to spoil Ward's shutout, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Senators from seeing their four-game winning streak end.
Carolina's best chance in a scoreless first period came with 2:16 left when Jeff Skinner's wrist shot from the slot went off Craig Anderson's chest. The puck bounced up and behind the goaltender, but he managed to sprawl into his net and cover it with his glove at the goal line.
Anderson wasn't as fortunate 1:33 into the second period, when a similar shot allowed the Hurricanes to take the lead. Sutter's shot from the left circle bounced off Anderson's blocker, then popped into the air and slid into the net.
Erik Karlsson, the NHL's top offensive defenseman, made the defensive play of the night with 8:17 left in the period to keep the Senators within a goal. Anderson came out into the circle to his left to play a dump-in, but mishandled the puck. Skinner picked it up and tried to cut to the front of the net and tap it into a wide-open net. However, Karlsson blocked the puck at the goal line with the blade of his stick and safely played it into the far corner.
Ottawa nearly got on the board a minute later when Ward gave up a huge rebound off Nick Foligno's shot from the left circle. The puck was batted in by Chris Neil's arm and ricocheted back into the Hurricanes' net, but after a video review, the goal was disallowed.
"I turned my shoulder in … I don't know, it's a reaction. I don't know if (the puck) is caught up in my jersey or whatever," Neil said. "Obviously, I felt it should have counted, but that's what they've got video review for."
Spezza felt that Neil was just trying to shield himself from the rebound and acknowledged that it was a game changing moment for the Senators.
"It turned out to be a turning point – we thought it was a goal," Spezza said. "From what I saw and where I saw it from, it just looked like he was making a natural reaction and was trying to protect his face. If he means to do that, it's pretty impressive. I don't think he's trying to direct it in with his elbow. They reviewed it, they made the call and we have to live with it."
Ward, who had the best view in the house, thought Neil redirected the puck.
"I knew immediately that he had lunged at it and it hit his arm. I knew it was going to at least be reviewable," Ward said.
MacLean was looking for more clarity from the officials.
"I don't get those explanations," MacLean said. (The referees) don't seem to take the time to come and talk to us on the bench about them, but the Evander Kane goal in Winnipeg (on March 26) seemed to be eerily similar and it was allowed and this wasn't. I'm not sure why they're different."
Carolina made it 2-0 at 17:54 on Ruutu's power-play deflection. With Foligno in the box for kneeing, Joni Pitkanen passed the puck across the point to Jussi Jokinen, who sent a wrister towards the net that Ruutu tipped past Anderson's stick for his Ruutu's first goal since Feb. 8.
Anderson made 29 saves, but saw his personal four-game winning streak end.
For the 12th-place Hurricanes, playing the role of spoiler is an added bonus to maintaining personal pride and finishing the season on a high note.
"It's been a good push from us from the All-Star break on," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "We're really pleased with the effort that they put in. We've had a good winning record since then and we bounced back from a toss against Jersey where we first got eliminated from the playoffs. But it was a good effort from our group tonight. To come in here and win is not easy."