RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes needed a game like this, both in the standings and for their own morale.
The Hurricanes scored three second-period goals to erase a 1-0 deficit en route to a 4-1 win against the Ottawa Senators at PNC Arena on Sunday.
But the story for Carolina was in the details. With three points, Eric Staal recorded his second multi-point game of the season. Goaltender Cam Ward made 35 saves to earn his first win since missing 10 games with a lower-body injury. Rugged forward Tuomo Ruutu showed flashes of his all-around game.
In short, the Hurricanes best players were their best players. And collectively, the team played well enough in the defensive zone to secure a decisive win.
"We were very sound," said Ward, who made his third start since the injury. "Not only the defense, but the forwards coming back taking care of the house.
"If we want to be successful, we have to play good defense. It was great to see in the second period that we capitalized on some opportunities. It takes a lot of weight off of some guys' shoulders."
The script nearly took a turn in Ottawa's favor in the first period.
The Senators started the scoring at 1:07, when Jason Spezza scored his 10th of the season. Mika Zibanejad centered to Spezza, who fired a shot off Ward, then cleaned up the rebound in the crease. The goal was Spezza's 18th in 32 career games against Carolina.
"It was a bad rebound on my part," Ward admitted. "I knew I was going to be forced to put it in a bad spot. Fortunately, Greening didn't get all of it and gave me a chance to dive over and make the save. That goes in, and it's a whole new hockey game, going down 2-0 in the first period."
If the game hinged on one play, that save was it.
"Cam makes that huge save, and the guys were like, we've got to get going here," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "After that, we started to pick it up. That save was the probably the turning point in the game."
Trailing 1-0 going into the second period, Carolina quickly scored a pair of hard-working goals. After a faceoff win and a strong forecheck, Patrick Dwyer tied the game, beating Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner high to the far post at 3:10 on a shot from the right circle.
Six minutes later, Staal teamed up with Ruutu for the go-ahead goal. After Erik Karlsson's shot produced a long bounce off the end boards, Staal brought the puck up ice and made a hard pass to Ruutu in stride. Ruutu buried a quick shot over the goaltender's blocker for a 2-1 lead.
"That was (Staal's) best game by far," Muller said. "It was also his hardest-working game. He used his wingers really well. He just played the game the right way tonight. He was the guy who led us up front, but everyone contributed."
Muller also made a point to single out Ruutu, who had three points in his first 18 games.
"That's the Ruutu we expect and demand," Muller said. "He's got to be one of the hardest working guys on our team, and that's how he gets results. He's got a good shot and we need to see him use it more. A lot of it is his work ethic has picked up and he's getting results from it."
The Hurricanes then went to work on the power play for the first time after Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips crosschecked Nathan Gerbe. Eighteen-year-old rookie Elias Lindholm scored his second of the season at 9:03, bringing the puck out of the corner uncontested and lifting a wrister high to the far post. Staal was the catalyst again, lugging the puck through the offensive zone until he spotted Lindholm free in the corner.
"I saw the D-man was behind Eric, so I knew I had much space down there," Lindholm said. "First I wanted to find (Jeff) Skinner at the back door, but I tried to shoot. It was good to get the goal."
Staal, who scored an empty-netter, has been coming on for the Canes lately. After scoring nine points in his first 18 games, the Hurricanes captain has begun to make an offensive impact. He has three goals and eight points during a six-game point streak.
"My linemates did a good job of hitting some holes," Staal said. "They seemed to be sitting back in some areas where I could make some plays with the puck. We were a little crisper with our passes. It's a lot funner playing that way with the puck."
The Senators played a physical game, delivering 34 hits, but coach Paul MacLean took exception to the way his team played in the second period.
"Right now, we don't play hard enough to win," MacLean said. "We don't play long enough to win consistently. (We) play the teams that are below us in the standings, and we don't seem to have enough respect for them to play hard enough. Tonight was another example."
For the Hurricanes, the game marked just the second four-goal output of the season. It is just one sign that the offense is finding a groove. There was also defenseman Justin Faulk, who had two assists to end a nine-game point drought, while the light-scoring Dwyer found the net for the second game in a row.
"Tonight we had 20 guys who were either blocking shots or chipping pucks or scoring goals," Dwyer said. "If we keep working like that, guys are going to come alive and we're going to win some hockey games."