OTTAWA - It had been a long time since Alex Kovalev had something to celebrate.
He made up for it Saturday night.
Kovalev scored three times - including the 400th of his career - as the Ottawa Senators defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. The hat trick made Kovalev the 82nd player in NHL history to reach the 400-goal plateau.
"It's always great to pass that point," said Kovalev, who has 401 goals all-time. 'I know it's been 14 or 15 (games since he's scored) or something like that so I could have done that early but now I can forget about it."
It was actually 16 games between goals for the first-year Senator, and even though the fans have been getting on him lately, the 16,229 at Scotiabank Place on Saturday loved him.
With the score tied 2-2 late in the third, Kovalev took a shot on an Ottawa power play that deflected off the skate of Hurricanes defenceman Jay Harrison and past Manny Legace. He then added an empty-net goal in the final minute, giving him seven on the season.
Jason Spezza also scored for the Senators (16-11-4), who were aided by a 23-save performance from Brian Elliott. Spezza also pulled a puck off the goal-line that was going in past Elliott in the moments before Kovalev scored the winner.
"The puck just kind of squeaked between (Elliott's) arm and lucky enough I got it before it went in and then we get the goal by (Kovalev)," said Spezza, who now has three goals in nine games after scoring just once in his first 20 games.
"When things are going good it happens that way and when things are going bad that one trickles in and we don't get score the goal."
Kovalev and Spezza both drew the ire of Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who noted last week - without naming names - that the team's underperforming stars had to start playing better.
Ray Whitney had both goals for the Hurricanes (7-19-6). Legace stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced.
Whitney sandwiched his ninth and 10th goals around Spezza's fourth of the season in the second period, as the teams headed to the third tied 2-2.
Whitney's first goal came on the power play. His point shot eluded Elliott along the ice and tied the game 1-1.
Spezza responded with the Senators' first power-play goal in 17 opportunities. He banked a shot off Legace from behind the net with the netminder out of position midway through the period to give the Senators their second one-goal lead of the game.
Whitney was in the right place at the right time for his second of the game as the puck bounced to him in the slot. Elliott stopped Eric Staal's sharp-angle shot but Whitney beat him on the rebound.
Kovalev had the only goal of the first period as he redirected a Nick Foligno pass behind Legace while cutting through the crease. He has 958 points in 1,179 career games.
"We need to win some games, so to be that close to it is frustrating," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.
"We've been playing good for about three weeks to a month now and we've had a lot of these nights. A little under-staffed, a little under-manned and we're running some kids a little hard. They're playing, but you've got to get that puck across the line."
The Hurricanes had collected five points in their previous four games heading into Ottawa, and Maurice was hoping to keep that roll going.
"You win that game and you're 3-1-1 with four real tough road games and five guys in the stands. You're real happy with that but it didn't happen and the way ended up is very frustrating to be in the penalty box at that time of the game. Very frustrating."
Notes: The Senators still have three regulars out of the lineup and all three have missed significant time with various injuries. Forwards Chris Neil and Shean Donovan have missed nine and 12 games respectively with knee injuries, while goaltender Pascal Leclaire has missed the past 10 games with a fractured cheekbone. ... The Senators lead the NHL with four shorthanded goals at home. ... The Hurricanes have five players out of the lineup with various injuries, including forwards Chad Larose, Erik Cole and Michael Ryan as well as defenceman Joe Corvo, who are all on injured reserve.