Big Fish story for Sens

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Senators squeezed some extra juice out of their heavy hearts last night.

Just hours after finding out Bonnie Neil, the mother of teammate Chris Neil, had been killed in a car accident, the Senators pulled out a 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center.

It was the Senators' first win in three tries against the 'Canes this season and they did it the hard way, overcoming a sub-par effort and riding Jason Spezza's third-period goal after twice blowing leads.

The win vaulted the Senators into first place overall in the NHL with a 16-3 record.

They were led by Neil's best friend on the team, Mike Fisher, who had a goal and two assists and was far and away the Senators' best player on the night.

'IT MEANT A LOT'

"It meant a lot to get the win. We said we wanted to play for Chris," said Fisher. "He gives his heart and soul to this team. We all feel for him. This is a tough time.

"We wanted to play as hard as we could for him and his family. It was a devastating afternoon for all of us."

After what had been a ragged effort for the Senators' big line (they were minus-2 at that point), Spezza scored the winner at 4:15 of the third. Dany Heatley made a nice play to strip the puck from Carolina's Justin Williams just inside the 'Canes' blue line to start the play.

The assist on Spezza's goal extended Heatley's scoring streak to 19 games.

Peter Schaefer scored an empty-netter to seal the win.

Senators coach Bryan Murray said he was worried about his team's emotional state after the team got the tragic news early in the afternoon.

QUIETEST BUS

"I really was concerned. That was the quietest bus I've been on in a long time," he said of the ride to the rink for the game.

"Nobody knows what to do or say. I spoke briefly and told them Chris would want them to work hard. He's a hard-working guy."

The 'Canes had erased a 3-2 Senators' lead just 72 seconds into the third when Cory Stillman was alone to poke in a rebound after another easy entry into the Ottawa zone.

The Senators got the quick start they were looking for as Fisher, one of the few Senators who seemed to be into it at the start, scored shorthanded at 3:18 of the first.

A little less than six minutes later, defenceman Christoph Schubert, taking Neil's spot on the roster (Neil left to return home yesterday afternoon) and playing on the wing, scored his first NHL goal to make it 2-0.

Smooth sailing, right?

But it turned out to be a start eerily like the last time the Senators played here in October with the 'Canes battling back.

In short, the 'Canes top line outplayed Ottawa's top line to the tune of 2-0 in the first, something that hasn't happened this season to the league's plus-minus leaders.

Goals by Eric Staal and Craig Adams came against the Senators' big line, which looked like it was skating in mud.

Senators defenceman Wade Redden got the lone goal of the second for a 3-2 Ottawa lead off a nice setup from Fisher.

The Senators lost winger Martin Havlat early in the game as he tried to battle through a hip injury.

"Some nights it's not pretty," said Murray. "You've just to work and battle it out."


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