OTTAWA - This win felt a lot like a loss to coach John Paddock and the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators came close to blowing a five-goal lead before hanging on for a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Thrashers before 18,538 fans at Scotiabank Place on Thursday. Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk scored three times as the Thrashers fought back to within a goal before Daniel Alfredsson scored his second of the night, a short-handed effort into an empty net, for the Senators to hang on for their fifth straight win.
"For us, it feels like a loss," Paddock said. "It's just a good lesson. You win the game, but it still feels like a loss. You don't let up.
"You just can never let up because something can go wrong."
Randy Robitaille, signed as a free agent in mid-October by the Senators, scored his first two goals for Ottawa to stake the Senators to a 2-0 lead, but left the game in the second period after a hit by Thrashers defenceman Garnet Exelby and didn't return after banging his face off the ice.
The Senators (10-1-0) almost blew the game once he left. Although they jumped out to a 5-0 lead in his absence through Alfredsson's first goal and singles from Nick Foligno and Patrick Eaves, the Thrashers staged a furious late rally.
"You play for pride," Thrashers GM and interim coach Don Waddell said. "We talked about it between the (second and third) periods. We play for pride or we pack up and head for Tampa (where the Thrashers play Saturday)."
The Senators chased Thrashers starter goaltender Johan Hedberg from the game after scoring four times on their first 19 shots.
Meanwhile, Atlanta (4-9-0) struggled for most of the night to get any offence going before coming to life in the third period. The Thrashers managed just four shots on Senators goaltender Ray Emery in the first period and only two more in the second.
It was a different story in the third, though, particularly after Ottawa's Chris Neil took a double minor for roughing late in the game with the Senators leading 5-2.
Kovalchuk scored twice on the power play and, after Chris Kelly was called for delay of game in the dying moments, the Senators were forced to sweat out the finish.
"We just said, 'Let's play for each other,"' Kovalchuk said. "Neil took a not necessary penalty. I got a chance to score and I got another chance."
Eric Perrin, who also picked up an assist, had the other goal for the Thrashers, who were playing the sixth game of a seven-game road trip. They lost for the first time in three games.
Slava Kozlov chipped in with a pair of assists.
Hedberg was replaced by Ondrej Pavelec, would go on to make eight saves the rest of the way and was tagged with the loss.
For Ottawa, Emery made 15 saves and Dany Heatley and Antoine Vermette each added a pair of helpers.
The Senators were playing without Jason Spezza, who suffered a groin injury in practice and is listed as day-to-day, but fellow centre Dean McAmmond was making his season debut after sitting out with a concussion and shoulder problem suffered on a hit from Steve Downie of the Philadelphia Flyers in the pre-season.
Robitaille was playing on the Senators' top line along with Alfredsson and Heatley as a result of the injury to Spezza.
"It was fun to play there for a period and a bit," said Robitaille, who opened the scoring at the 1:48 mark and added another goal early in the second before leaving. "Those are two good players and I was lucky to play there."
The side of Robitaille's face was swollen badly after the game, but he was otherwise OK and it's not known if he'll miss any time.
Kovalchuk spoiled Emery's shutout bid midway through the third and started Atlanta's rally when he snapped a shot between the goaltender's pads on a 2-on-1 break and it was game on from there.
"Every shift, he gives you everything he's got," Waddell said in praising Kovalchuk. "It doesn't matter what the score was. He had a great third period. He just didn't get four."
The Senators could only breathe easily when Alfredsson scored into the empty net for his 300th career goal.
Alfredsson didn't share his coach's view of the outcome.
"Not at all, I think it feels like a great win," he said.
Notes: It was the 400th game of Kovalchuk's career. . . . The Senators play a home-and-home series against the Boston Bruins on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.