OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators gave their fans a thrill as they waited to the last possible moment to clinch a return trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Erik Karlsson scored his second goal of the game with 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation to draw the Senators even at 3-3.
The tie through regulation assured Ottawa of at least one standings point, which clinched the playoff spot. The Senators failed to qualify last season, ending a streak of 11 straight post-season appearances.
"We worked hard throughout the whole year and it's obviously nice," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who saw an eight-game points streak end in his 998th regular-season game. "We kind of knew, even though we clinched it today, that we were going to be in but it's nice to continue winning and we've got a good feeling and we're looking forward to the next week and then the playoffs."
Spezza picked up his third assist of the game on the play that led to Karlsson's second goal, winning a faceoff in the Hurricanes' zone and drawing the puck back to the Swedish rookie, whose drive from the point went in off Manny Legace's glove.
"Everybody knew what we were going to do out there if we won the faceoff and it was a really good faceoff by Spezza there," said Karlsson, who also scored early in the third to tie it at 2-2.
Brandon Sutter scored his 21st goal 7:04 into the third to give Carolina a 3-2 lead. Sutter scored for the second game in a row when his centring pass caromed past Elliott and into the net.
Jamie McBain and Chad LaRose scored in the second for Carolina.
Volchenkov put Ottawa up 1-0 with 11.9 seconds left in the first. The Russian defenceman stepped up to the slot and one-timed Spezza's centring pass from behind the net past Legace for his fourth goal.
McBain scored his third goal 5:44 into the second to tie it at 1-1. LaRose put Carolina up 2-1 with his eighth goal at 15:30.
Karlsson drew Ottawa even at 2-2 when he scored his first goal of the game 1:49 into the third.
Bobby Butler made his NHL debut for Ottawa. Butler, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, signed with the Senators as an undrafted college free agent Monday, two days after concluding his NCAA career at New Hampshire.
NOTES: Alfredsson, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in 1995-96, is Ottawa's career leader in games, goals (375), assists (614), and points (989) ... Butler had 29 goals and 53 points in 39 games for New Hampshire this season ... Spezza recorded his 300th career NHL assist during the win ... The Senators start a three-game road trip Saturday in Uniondale, N.Y., against the Islanders (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).