Originally created 02/22/01

Hurricanes 6, Thrashers 3



RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes have been waiting half the season for Sandis Ozolinsh to start playing like a $4 million player.

The all-star was a money player during a 6-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night, scoring a goal and adding three assists in his biggest game since being acquired from Colorado in a draft-day trade.

"He was a factor controlling the puck," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said of Ozolinsh, who has had trouble fitting in with the Hurricanes, and scored his first goal in 22 games. "He seemed to have the confidence. He really did move a lot of guys around out there and opened up some ice."

Ozolinsh didn't make a major deal out of his big night.

"It's just one game," he said. "You are only as good as your last game, I guess."

Jeff O'Neill and Shane Willis scored 52 seconds apart in the third period to break the game open as the Hurricanes remained undefeated against the Thrashers.

Willis had two more goals for his first hat trick in his rookie season, while Ozolinsh notched the sixth four-point game of his career.

The victory moved the Hurricanes one point ahead of Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and to 8-0 against the Thrashers, who came into the league last season.

The Bruins played later Wednesday night at Colorado.

Atlanta fell to 3-17-3-1 since going one-game over .500 on Dec. 28.

Donald Audette scored his team-leading 28th and 29th goals in the first period, but Atlanta gave up five unanswered goals before Ray Ferraro scored on a penalty shot with 3:13 left.

"Their speed all of a sudden started to show," Atlanta coach Curt Fraser said of Carolina's third-period outburst. "We gave them too much room."

O'Neill was set up in the slot midway through the third for his team-leading 30th goal on a beautiful play by Ozolinsh.

The assist was Ozolinsh's second of the night and first points in 11 games.

"He's very skilled," Ferraro said. "The downside with him is you have to suffer through times when he doesn't feel like playing. But he felt like playing tonight."

Less than a minute later, Willis scored his second of the game on a breakaway, beating Damian Rhodes high, to break the game open.

Ozolinsh added Carolina's third power-play goal with 6:35 left and set up Willis two minutes later.

"That's a kid who has played very well offensively in this league for a lot of years," Fraser said of Ozolinsh. "That's why he makes whatever he makes."

Carolina trailed 2-1 after one period, but Willis tied it with a power-play goal midway through the second. Atlanta did a good job on the penalty kill, but the puck squirted out of the corner and right to Willis in the slot. He beat Rhodes with one second left on Denny Lambert's tripping penalty.

The goal was Willis' seventh on the power play - tops among NHL rookies.

Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe kept the game tied late in the second when he make an initial save from the left circle and then robbed Stephen Guolla with a sprawling glove stop on the rebound.

The teams traded power-play goals in the first 14 minutes.

Sami Kapanen got his first goal in 15 games 2:23 in with Jiri Slegr off for holding, poking one by Rhodes from close range.

Audette beat Irbe on the short side with 16 seconds left on a two-man advantage 12 minutes later. He then added his second of the period with 38.3 seconds left.

"We weren't pleased coming in after one down 2-1, but this is the time of the year where you have to be resilient, you have to have a bad short-term memory," Carolina captain Ron Francis said.

Notes:

Carolina's Martin Gelinas played in his 800th career game. ... The teams combined for 31 shots in the first period. ... Chris Joseph scored his first point for Atlanta in his third game since being claimed off waivers from Phoenix on Feb. 14. ... Kapanen had six of Carolina's 15 first-period shots.