Carolina goalie Cam Ward made a brilliant return after being out nearly two months, Erik Cole scored a decisive goal with 4:11 left, and the Hurricanes beat the Thrashers, 4-1, last night, dealing a blow to host Atlanta’s playoff hopes.
Jussi Jokinen scored twice for Carolina, including an empty-net goal after the desperate Thrashers pulled Johan Hedberg for an extra skater with more than 2 minutes left. Atlanta missed a chance to pull even with Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Jokinen’s first goal broke a 1-1 tie in the second period, and Cole finished off the Thrashers by ripping a shot past Hedberg after Ward had turned away Atlanta’s repeated chances. Ward made 26 saves in his first contest since Feb. 3, having missed 19 games because of a back injury.
The Thrashers came into the night trailing Boston by 2 points, and the Bruins opened the door by losing at home to Buffalo, 3-2. Atlanta couldn’t take advantage, closing out a strange season series with a division rival clinging to faint hope of making the playoffs.
Atlanta won all three games at Raleigh, including a 4-0 shutout Saturday night that boosted its hopes. But Carolina won the return game in the home-and-home to finish off a sweep of the three meetings in Georgia.
Ward sure didn’t look rusty after his long layoff. He came up big on Niclas Bergfors in the second period when the Atlanta winger broke in all alone. Ward stopped the initial shot, the rebound going right back to Bergfors, who got off another shot. Ward blocked that one, too.
In the third period, Jim Slater stole the puck and came in on a breakaway for a possible tying goal with the Thrashers shorthanded, but Ward made the save. Rich Peverley picked off the rebound and fired a shot through a screen, only to have Ward turn that away with a nifty flick of the pads.
Wild 3, Kings 2 — Martin Havlat scored a power-play goal in the third period and Owen Nolan and Brent Burns also scored as Minnesota kept its remote playoff chances alive by beating Los Angeles in St. Paul.
Scott Parse scored twice for the Kings, 0-3-1 in their past four to tie their longest winless streak of the season. Los Angeles lost four straight from Dec. 17-30.
The Kings, who haven’t played in the postseason since 2002, are seventh in the tight Western Conference, 4 points behind fifth-place Nashville.
Minnesota is 9 points behind eighth-place Colorado with six games left. The Avalanche have seven games remaining.
With Andrew Brunette standing in front, Havlat’s slap shot from just inside the left point beat Jonathan Quick high on the glove side at 7:38. It was Minnesota’s second power-play goal of the game.
The Kings, who gave up four power-play goals in Saturday’s loss to Dallas, allowed Minnesota to go 2 for 3 with the man advantage.
Ducks 3, Stars 1 — Nick Bonino, who earlier this month was playing for Boston University, scored his first NHL goal with an assist from 600-goal scorer Teemu Selanne, and Curtis McElhinney made 30 saves in host Anaheim’s victory over Dallas.
Corey Perry and Kyle Chipchura scored 49 seconds apart in the second period as the Ducks won for the sixth time in eight games to move even with Dallas and Minnesota in 11th place in the Western Conference standings.
Loui Eriksson scored his 28th goal and Kari Lehtonen stopped 43 shots for the Stars, who lost two of three in California to end a four-game trip. High-scoring center Mike Ribeiro was scratched for missing a team meeting, coach Marc Crawford said.
After a scoreless first period, Bonino batted home a rebound of Selanne’s shot from the slot for his first goal in just his second NHL game.
Predators 3, Panthers 2 — Francis Bouillon scored a minute into overtime to lift Nashville to the win at Sunrise, Fla.
David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist also scored for Nashville. Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss had third-period goals for Florida, which lost its third straight game.
Scott Clemmensen stopped 22 shots for the Panthers and Dan Ellis made 27 saves for the Predators.