On a night when Jared Cowen delivered a thundering hit and got into a couple of scraps in his return to the home team’s lineup, on a night when Chris Neil finally found the back of the net again ... the Senators did what they had to do.

Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, who are on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, was huge, with the Islanders, Rangers and Jets all looking to gain ground on the Senators and move up in the standings.

But it was Cowen’s head-crunching hit on Carolina sharpshooter Jeff Skinner, who has a history of concussion issues, that had people talking ... and had the Hurricanes seeking some payback.

“I think the game kind of changed at that point. It was good for us,” said Cowen, playing his first game of the season after hip surgery. “I didn’t think he’d pass it there, but he did ... and I was already there.”

Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller was asked what he thought about the Senators defenceman’s big hit.

“It’s an open-ice hit, so ... Skins said he saw him, but he wasn’t able to get out of the way,” said Muller. “It’s a taller guy and a shorter guy. He comes a little high on him. You’ve got a big guy coming down on a shorter guy, you catch him high ... it’s a tough one to call.”

Cowen answered the bell for two fights — scuffling with Chad LaRose, who stepped up as a dance partner immediately after the hit on Skinner, then Kevin Westgarth.

“I hate seeing guys get hit in the head and it looked like he might have dinged him there,” said Westgarth. “Hockey is a fast game. Sometimes, crap happens. It’s not going to be accepted by anybody on our team. When you see one of your buddies, especially a guy like Skins, a young kid, a skilled player ... I think you saw the reaction it warranted.”

Neil hadn’t found the back of the net since Feb. 5 — 31 scoreless games.

He celebrated by punching out Tim Gleason late in the second period — one of five fights on a night when Ottawa tough guy Matt Kassian wasn’t even in the lineup.

“It’s nice to chip in offensively. I know I can,” said Neil.

“You start doubting your sticks. It’s one of those things that as long as we get the win out of it, it doesn’t matter who scores.

“I’m not a guy who’s going to go out and get you 50 goals, but I can chip in here and there.

“Obviously there’s a lot more to my game than scoring goals. I’ve got to be a physical presence. I think I’ve done that game in and game out — go out and stick up for my teammates.”