ATLANTA - Carolina's big edge in power-play chances led to a small edge in the final score.
Cory Stillman scored on a two-man advantage with 3:23 left to give the Hurricanes their first lead and a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.
Carolina scored on two of eight power plays while Atlanta was shut out on three opportunities.
"The difference was our power play," Stillman said. "We had some shots and finally capitalized on them."
The Thrashers, hurt by eight penalties, could not hold leads of 2-0 and 3-1. Stillman's decisive score came with nine seconds remaining on a two-man advantage.
"It was sort of a broken play," Stillman said. "I was in a spot I shouldn't have been. (The shot) was just barely in."
Stillman, positioned about 18 feet from the net in the left circle, scored on a pass from Ray Whitney. The 5-on-3 shot found the left side of the net.
Carolina's late power play came after a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Ken Klee and a two-minute delay of game penalty on Thrashers captain Bobby Holik.
"Everything they got, we gave them," Holik said. "We should not be disappointed because we did not play well enough to win.
"We played well 5-on-5."We said we cannot turn the puck over and we cannot take too many penalties. But we took too many penalties and turned the puck over too much."
Another big key for Carolina was its ability to contain Ilya Kovalchuk for a change. Two days after Kovalchuk had four points in a 5-4 overtime win at Carolina, the Atlanta star had no goals. The Thrashers fell to 4-13 when Kovalchuk, the NHL leader with 33 goals, is held without a goal.
Atlanta (20-21-1) hoped to pull within a point of first-place Carolina but instead fell below .500 and five points out of the lead. Carolina players said they were aware their division lead had been shrinking.
"Yeah, we look at the board," said Eric Staal, who had a goal and two assists. "We want to be at the top of our division."
Kovalchuk has 24 goals in 34 career games against Carolina, including a goal and three assists Wednesday night. He was limited to one assist in the rematch.
Staal, Whitney and Casey Borer also scored for Carolina, which ended a three-game losing streak.
Carolina goalie Michael Leighton, called up from Albany of the AHL when veteran backup John Grahame was waived on Thursday, made 23 stops.
Leighton started over Cam Ward, who was 2-5-1 with a 3.88 goals-against average in his last nine games. Leighton said he was surprised to be called up. The start was even more unexpected.
"An hour after I arrived, I was told I'd start," Leighton said. "I did pretty good - in the second and third periods."
Leighton trailed 1-0 less than a minute into his 2007-08 NHL debut, thanks to Mark Recchi's tip-in 32 seconds into the game. Todd White's goal 12:15 into the first period gave Atlanta a 2-0 lead.
Carolina set a high-scoring pace for the second period with Whitney's goal 27 seconds in, the first of three goals in the first five minutes.
Atlanta answered with a short-handed tip-in by Pascal Dupuis about three minutes later for a 3-1 lead. The fast tempo continued on the same Carolina power play when Staal guided a shot by Jeffrey Hamilton into the net.
The Hurricanes made it 3-3 late in the second period on Borer's first NHL goal, a shot through Kari Lehtonen's legs after a pass from Keith Aucoin. Lehtonen made 29 stops.
Notes: Borer, a 2004 third-round pick recalled from Albany on Tuesday, has played in two games, both against Atlanta . . . Grahame cleared waivers and was assigned to Albany . . . Centre Kevin Doell became Atlanta's sixth player of the season to make his NHL debut. Doell was recalled from AHL Chicago on Thursday . . . Leighton was 10-23-10 with a 3.04 goals-against average in previous NHL stints with Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia.