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 with a back injury.
The Thrashers came into the night trailing Boston by two points, and the Bruins opened the door by losing at home to Buffalo 3-2 in regulation. 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.
The Thrashers went ahead in the first period on Nik Antropov's power-play goal. Niclas Bergfors swept in behind the net and flipped a pass toward Antropov, who appeared to be tied up by Brian Pothier but managed to get loose just enough to deflect the puck past Ward for his 23rd goal of the season.
Jokinen scored his 28th goal and added his 29th into the empty net.
SABRES 3, BRUINS 2
In Boston, Tyler Myers had a goal and set up Paul Gaustad's score to lift surging Buffalo to its sixth win in seven games, topping the Bruins.
Ryan Miller made 40 saves, including Marco Sturm's penalty shot in the first period, in a matchup of last month's USA Olympic goaltenders.
Boston goalie Tim Thomas, Miller's backup in Vancouver, was pulled after the Sabres' third goal and left the ice to jeers. He was making his second consecutive start after shutting out Calgary on Saturday.
Tim Kennedy also scored for Buffalo, which moved one point behind Pittsburgh for second overall in the Eastern Conference.
David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg scored Boston's goals.
The Bruins, who remained in eighth place in the East after Carolina defeated Atlanta 4-1, lost for the third time seven games.
PREDATORS 3, PANTHERS 2 (OT)
In Sunrise, Fla., Francis Bouillon scored a minute into overtime to lift Nashville.
David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist also scored for Nashville. Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss had third-period goals for Florida, which lost its third game in a row.
Scott Clemmensen stopped 22 shots for the Panthers and Dan Ellis made 27 saves for the Predators.
Clemmensen got the start in favor of Tomas Vokoun, Nashville's former goalie, who has won just one of his past seven games. Both Ellis and Clemmensen appeared in the only other meeting between the Panthers and Predators this season, a 4-1 Nashville win Nov. 28, 2009.