OTTAWA - After a year's absence, the Ottawa Senators marked their return to the Stanley Cup playoffs in dramatic fashion Thursday night.
Alex Kovalev and Jason Spezza had goals in the shootout and Erik Karlsson scored twice in regulation as the Senators beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 to ensure a return to post-season play.
With Ottawa trailing 3-2 late in the third, Spezza won a draw in the Carolina end back to Karlsson, who blew a shot past Hurricanes goalie Manny Legace to tie the game with 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
"Everybody knew what we were going to do if we won the faceoff and it's a really good faceoff by Spezza," said Karlsson. "I just took the shot and it's a really good feeling to see it go in."
Karlsson has been instrumental for the Senators of late with three goals and seven assists in his last six games.
"He's been phenomenal for us," said Spezza. "His emergence has really helped our team out this second half and having young guys step up is what gives your team a lot of success and he's done that ... he's been real valuable to our team."
Anton Volchenkov also scored in regulation for the Senators (43-30-5), while Brian Elliott, making his sixth straight start, made 28 saves.
Peter Regin had two assists for the Senators, fifth in the Eastern Conference with 91 points.
Ottawa needed just a single point to clinch a playoff spot. The Senators return to post-season action after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996.
"It's a huge point in dramatic fashion and it's nice to get back in the playoffs," said Spezza. "We're excited. After you miss a year I think you appreciate it even more."
Legace was solid for the Hurricanes, stopping 32 shots. Jamie McBain, Chad LaRose and Brandon Sutter scored for Carolina (33-35-9).
Legace felt Carolina deserved better, especially on the tying goal.
"We should have had two points," said Legace. "The guy wins the draw clean and shoots it, it hits my glove and goes up in the air and goes in the net. It's unfortunate."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice was equally disappointed, considering how the team had played to that point.
"It's tough to lose it like that."
The Senators opened the scoring with 11.9 seconds remaining in the first period as Volchenkov, who returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game in Washington due to injury, beat Legace from the slot with a shot over the right shoulder.
Carolina tied the game five minutes into the second as McBain beat Elliott with a shot from the blue-line.
The Hurricanes took a 2-1 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the period when LaRose beat Elliot as he moved across his crease.
Karlsson tied things early in the third with his third of the season, beating Legace glove side with a snapshot from the slot, but Carolina retook the lead just over five minutes later. Sutter scored for the second game in a row when his centring pass caromed past Elliott and into the net.
"Erik scored two great goals for us and he continues to play great," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who saw an eight-game point streak come to an end.
"It's a good comeback win."
Notes: The Senators were without D Filip Kuba (lower body, day-to-day), LW Milan Michalek (knee, indefinite). RW Shean Donovan and RW Ryan Shannon were healthy scratches. ... RW Bobby Butler, who signed with Ottawa from the University of New Hampshire this week, played his first NHL game. ... The Hurricanes were without D Tim Gleason (foot, day-to-day), D Alexandre Picard (upper body, day-to-day) and RW Tuomo Ruutu (shoulder, season).