RALEIGH — It was a scary game for the Carolina Hurricanes, and in more ways than one.
The Ottawa Senators may be last in the NHL's Eastern Conference, but they came into Tuesday's game against the Canes loose, confident and ready to be the spoilers.
The Sens then grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period, forcing the Hurricanes to play catchup and causing some serious anxiety in the RBC Center.
Then, after the Hurricanes rallied and grabbed a 4-2 lead in the third period, captain Eric Staal left the game with an apparent injury.
But it all ended well for Carolina. The Hurricanes won 4-3, keeping pace with the Buffalo Sabres as the two teams hotly chase after a playoff berth. Chad LaRose had a pair of goals, Tuomo Ruutu and Cory Stillman scored and Cam Ward again did his part in net with 36 saves.
After the game, Canes coach Paul Maurice said Staal was pulled from the game for precautionary reasons but did not offer any specifics. Maurice noted Staal said he would be fine for Friday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Given all that, the Hurricanes (34-29-10) came away mostly relieved after winning their second in a row to remain three points behind the eighth-place Sabres, who beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0.
LaRose's second goal, with 1:43 left in the second period, gave the Canes their first lead, 3-2.
LaRose attempted to celebrate by hopping into the boards, only to crash to the ice, but came away smiling.
Stillman then scored six minutes into the third after Erik Cole forced a turnover in the Sens' zone, converting off a well-executed give-and-go with Staal for the 4-2 cushion.
"I don't think we were playing our best hockey there at the start," LaRose said. "Cam [Ward] was holding us in the game. He played great.
"Once we got one, I think we settled down a little bit and then the second one helped us."
Colin Greening and Marek Svatos scored off rebounds in the first period for the 2-0 lead.
The Sens (27-27-9) had won five of their past seven games, with a pair of wins over both the New Jersey Devils and Lightning, and were beating the Canes to pucks.
The Canes again appeared to be tentative, although rookie Jeff Skinner did fire up the crowd by jostling with the Sens' Nick Foligno after being dumped near the Ottawa net. But when the Hurricanes finally broke through, with Ruutu redirecting a shot by Jussi Jokinen at 14:07 of the first, it didn't take Carolina long to tie it.
Twenty-five seconds, to be exact. LaRose rifled a shortside shot past goaltender Curtis McElhinney, it was 2-2 at 14:32 and the RBC Center was alive.
"It was good the way we responded after giving up a couple of goals," Cole said. "We could feel some of the energy come out of the building after the first one. That first goal definitely let some of the air out [but] it was a good response by [Ruutu's] line after the second goal ... and we were back in the game."
The Hurricanes had to do some heavy lifting in the second period.
They killed off a Joni Pitkanen roughing penalty to begin the period and later killed a tripping penalty against Bryan Allen while Ward stopped all 18 Ottawa shots in the second.
Although the Canes' power-play struggles continue - Carolina was 0-3 - the Senators were 0-4 on the power play.
Stillman's goal, at 6:04 of the third, appeared to be a backbreaker. But the Sens made it a 4-3 game with 5:46 left in regulation on Erik Karlsson's rebound goal, and Ward was forced to make more big stops.
On Friday, the Canes needed a last-gasp goal by Cole late in regulation to tie it, and then Pitkanen's overtime goal to beat the New York Islanders, who are also below Carolina in the standings.
"The good thing about playing those teams is it forces you to continue to go and to grind and to play the way you need to play to be successful," Cole said. "We did that tonight and it was a big two points."
Next up for Carolina: a back-to-back set with the Lightning, the first game Friday on the road, then Saturday at the RBC Center.
"In order to be a playoff team you have to be able to compete and win games, especially this time of year," Cole said. "I don't see our opponents coming up as any tougher task than we've had."
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