Originally created 04/10/00

Hurricanes top Thrashers; miss playoffs



RALEIGH, N.C. -- One point.

That number stood in the way of Carolina making the NHL playoffs or the Hurricanes spending a summer full of second-guessing.

"One point is tough," said Paul Coffey, who scored two goals as Carolina beat the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 Sunday, but missed the postseason by the slimmest of margins.

"You could sit here and say it's easier to lose by 10 points, but then you know you've got a real bad team. Our team is a playoff team. We're close. It's frustrating."

The Hurricanes went into their regular-season finale needing to win and Buffalo to lose at Washington in order to slip into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the Sabres tied 1-1 for 85 points, leaving the defending Southeast Division champions with 84 and out of the postseason.

"Anytime you put your fate in another team's hands you're fighting fire with fire," Coffey said.

"It was an extremely roller coaster week," said Ron Francis, who missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. "Friday morning there were five bullets in the gun, and coming into today we had dodged three of them. Unfortunately, the fourth one got us before we could get to the fifth."

Coach Paul Maurice predicted a month ago that his team would need 86 points to secure a postseason berth. He ended up being correct.

"There are a big chunk of guys who invested a lot into this season, and those guys are whipped," Maurice said of his team's emotions.

Carolina found out in the middle of the second period that it failed to make the playoffs. The Hurricanes won five of their final six during a fierce postseason push with the Sabres and Montreal Canadiens, who finished one point behind the Hurricanes.

"You play 81« games before you find out you're not going to make it by one point," Francis said. "I would be lying if I didn't say it was extremely tough, but our guys kept battling and we were able to win the game. That says something about the character in here. It was tough to finish that game when we knew we were out of it."

Arturs Irbe lost his shutout bid with 58 seconds left when Donald Audette scored with Damien Rhodes out of the Atlanta net.

"He was the difference," Rhodes said of Irbe. "We could have had three or four goals on him."

Coffey scored early in the first and second periods for his first two-goal game in nearly four years. That occurred April 13, 1996, when Coffey was a member of the Detroit Red Wings.

Meanwhile, the Thrashers lost their 61st game -- tying for the fourth worst single-season mark in NHL history. Atlanta was 3-32-1 over its final 36 games.

"Our young guys know where they have to be," Atlanta coach Curt Fraser said. "They have to get bigger, faster and stronger if they expect to be successful at this level."

Coffey scored his 10th goal with less than seven minutes gone for a 1-0 lead. The defenseman swept in from behind the net and poked the puck past Rhodes after it fell in the crease following a shot from the top of the right circle by Gary Roberts that hit the post.

Francis registered his 50th assist on the goal, giving him at least that many in a season 14 times.

Coffey made it 2-0 on a power play 3:27 into the second, blasting a low shot from the right point past Rhodes.