Originally created 01/17/04

Hurricanes top cold Thrashers

ATLANTA -- Jeff O'Neill broke out of a season-long slump with his second career hat trick, and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied for a 4-3 victory over the plummeting Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.

The Thrashers squandered a 3-1 lead after the first period, extending their winless streak to nine games (0-7-1-1) despite two goals from All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk.

O'Neill had only five goals in 44 games before breaking out against Atlanta. He scored his second goal of the night at 8:23 of the second period, pulling the Hurricanes to within 3-2.

Then, he came up with the winning goal at 14:02 - just 44 seconds after Kevyn Adams tied it up. O'Neill took a pass from Pavel Brendl behind the net and flipped a quick backhander past Thrashers goalie Byron Dafoe.

O'Neill has 192 career goals, tying Pat Verbeek for fifth place on the franchise list.

The Thrashers came out strong, clearly fired up by the presence of Dany Heatley at the morning skate.

He took the ice with his teammates for the first time since a preseason car crash killed teammate Dan Snyder. Heatley is recovering from knee surgery and expected to return this season.

After O'Neill scored first for the Hurricanes, the Thrashers put together three straight goals against Kevin Weekes.

Two of them were pure brilliance by Kovalchuk.

He took the puck along the boards, beat three players single-handedly and lifted a perfectly placed shot over Weekes' left shoulder to put Atlanta up 2-1.

Kovalchuk increased the lead on the power play. After Weekes made a save in front, the Thrashers got the puck back while Kovalchuk glided to the top of the circle and tapped his stick impatiently. He took a pass from Frantisek Kaberle and one-timed a 40-footer past Weekes.

The Carolina goalie was on shaky ground again, one night after being yanked just 3 1/2 minutes into a game at Tampa Bay. He gave up two goals on the first two shots of the game in a 5-4 loss to the Lightning.

But Weekes bounced back to make 27 saves, including a big glove stop on Shawn McEachern with about 10 minutes remaining.

It helped to finally get some offensive support. The Hurricanes have scored four goals in consecutive games for the first time this season. They reached that level just four times in their first 43 games.

Notes: The Thrashers had scored just six goals in their five previous games. ... Dafoe has started three straight games for the first time this year. ... The teams played the first leg of a home-and-home; they'll meet again Sunday in Raleigh, N.C. ... Carolina has dominated the series with the Thrashers, improving to 13-2-4-3.


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