RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—The Atlanta Thrashers kept drawing penalties and Carolina kept scoring. The Hurricanes strengthened their lead in the Southeast Division with a power-play performance that was, well, powerful.
Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Hamilton each scored two of Carolina’s franchise-record-tying five power-play goals in the Hurricanes’ 7-1 rout of lowly Atlanta on Friday night that moved them closer to clinching the division.
“All the time we were talking about shooting the puck,” Ruutu said. “We did tonight, and that’s why we got those goals. If you don’t shoot, you’re not going to get goals.”
Carolina outshot the Thrashers 35-26, led 4-0 midway through the second period, and earned another easy win against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes improved to 6-1-1 against Atlanta, scoring at least five goals in all but one of those victories.
Jim Slater scored a short-handed goal, and Johan Hedberg stopped 28 shots but gave up all seven goals. Atlanta lost its eighth of 10 and is just three points ahead of last-place Tampa Bay in the East. The Thrashers were whistled for 21 penalties and gave Carolina 11 power-play chances.
“We just wore (the penalty-kill unit) out,” Thrashers coach Don Waddell said. “We tried to use some new guys in there because they were so worn out. … You take that many penalties, it’s going to get to you.”
Cam Ward made 25 saves in his career-high 16th straight start for the Hurricanes, who extended their division lead over idle Washington to four points with four games left.
Carolina has earned points in 14 of 16 games (12-2-2) and is closing in on a return to the playoffs after slipping from Stanley Cup champion in 2006 to postseason no-show last year.
“We could feel the energy in (the dressing) room, before the game even started, that we were going to be ready to play and fired up,” Staal said. “And we came out hard, we came out flying. We were going after them in the beginning of the game.”
They dominated this one from the opening faceoff, scoring twice in the first 7 1/2 minutes and regularly outworking the Thrashers.
Staal tapped the rebound of Erik Cole’s shot past Hedberg 42 seconds in for his team-leading 36th goal. Hamilton then made it 2-0 when he caught Atlanta with only three skaters during a switch, skated over the blue line and beat Hedberg with a hard slap shot.
The quick offense “kind of relaxes everybody into the game,” Hamilton said. “We had a great start, we had a great first shift and just kept following it up.”
And for all the chances Carolina had on the power play, its performance while killing an early penalty also helped set the tone. After Cole was whistled for roughing, the Hurricanes generated more quality scoring chances than the Thrashers, with Staal and Frantisek Kaberle taking turns peppering Hedberg.
“We came out skating, we came out to compete, we came out to get a win,” Staal said. “And it didn’t matter if it was short-handed, power play or even strength—we were skating, we were shooting (and) we even ended up getting a couple of looks.”
Corvo and Ruutu tacked on insurance goals in the second, scoring on the power play in a span of about 2 1/2 minutes. Corvo’s one-timer converted a 5-on-3 advantage, and Ruutu’s drive from the slot pushed the lead to 4-0.
“It was one of those games that got out of hand,” Waddell said.
Cole, Kaberle and Tim Gleason had two assists apiece for Carolina. … Hurricanes D Bret Hedican didn’t return after sustaining a lower-body injury in the first period. … Carolina LW Wade Brookbank skated in his 100th NHL game, and the physical forward marked the milestone by fighting Atlanta LW Eric Boulton late in the first. … For a 26-second stretch in the second period, Atlanta had five players in the penalty box. … Staal has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in eight games against the Thrashers.