Atlanta Thrashers' Evgeny Artyukhin (76), from Russia, and Chris Thorburn (27) celebrate Artyukhin's goal as Carolina Hurricanes Brian Pothier (5) skates away at right during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, March 27, 2010. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gerry Broome)
RALEIGH, N.C. - Stuck on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Atlanta Thrashers focused on beating the Carolina Hurricanes instead of the standings.
By shutting out their Southeast Division rival, the Thrashers made up some ground in the post-season hunt, too.
Rich Peverley and Evgeny Artyukhin scored 57 seconds apart in the second period to help the Thrashers beat the Hurricanes 4-0 on Saturday night.
Niclas Bergfors added a goal late in the second for the Thrashers, who snapped a two-game skid to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference race. Johan Hedberg earned his second shutout of the season, facing just six shots in the first period before finishing with 34 saves amid Carolina's final-period flurry.
"We stayed with it the whole way," Hedberg said. "We didn't have any lapses, which is key. We didn't beat ourselves."
Indeed. Perhaps their biggest miscue came when Maxim Afinogenov hit the right post on an empty-net shot, though the Thrashers were leading 3-0 with about three minutes left. About a minute later, Jim Slater made up for that with a power-play goal that wrapped up a three-game season sweep of the Hurricanes at the RBC Center.
The Thrashers moved within two points of eighth place and the post-season cutoff. They got some help Saturday when Montreal and Philadelphia - both just ahead of the Thrashers - lost in regulation. The 10th-place New York Rangers lost in overtime at Toronto.
"That's so out of our control," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "But we have to do our best when we have it in our control. We went about business tonight really well."
Atlanta had lost consecutive games to Boston and Toronto coming into Raleigh, but Hedberg said his team played with more emotion this time.
"We didn't turn the pucks over in the same way," he said. "We did the things we were supposed to do. Even though you get down on yourself, when you lose a big game like we did against Boston or Toronto and we think we might be out of it, you look at the standings and realize you're not. It's a funny business."
Manny Legace finished with 39 saves on an otherwise forgettable night for the Hurricanes, who inched closer to elimination. Carolina started the game flat, then fell behind for good during the Thrashers' three-goal burst in the second period.
"They came out more desperate than we did," Carolina captain Eric Staal said.
The Hurricanes were lucky to still be in the game after the first 20 minutes. Atlanta fired 18 shots at Legace only to have the goaltender make several big stops. But the Hurricanes didn't take advantage of that opening, failing to get off a shot on three power plays in the period.
The Thrashers finally broke through midway through the second when Afinogenov pushed the puck into the right circle, then sent a pass to Peverley coming up the middle of the ice. Peverley quickly sent a puck past Brett Carson and Legace at 7:46.
Less than a minute later, the Thrashers struck again when Artyukhin beat Legace from the right side to make it 2-0 at 8:43 of the second.
Bergfors beat Legace on a 2-on-1 chance late in the period for a 3-0 lead, which all but clinched yet another road win against the Hurricanes.
"Manny was real good in the first period, but we needed to get more on them, looking for plays rather than just shooting the puck," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "It hurt our confidence. ... The lack of shots early on was not a good sign for our team."
NOTES: Atlanta won the first two meetings of the six-game season series, but Carolina won the next two before Saturday. The final meeting is Monday in Atlanta. ... Carolina has been outshot 760-690 in the first period this season. ... The Hurricanes managed 19 shots at Hedberg in the final period after getting 15 in the first two. ... Artyukhin and Slater scored for the first time in five games.