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Atlanta Thrashers 2, Carolina Hurricanes 4 FINAL @NHLdotcom

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ When the Carolina Hurricanes traded their captain, coach Peter Laviolette called it an opportunity for other players to prove their mettle.

It took a few days for the payoff, but it came with a vengeance as Justin Williams scored a tie-breaking goal and the Hurricanes dominated the Atlanta Thrashers in a 4-2 win Friday night.

``You don't replace a guy like Ron Francis,'' Williams said of the Hurricanes' star center who was traded Tuesday to Toronto. ``You just do your best to fill the void as best you can.

``This is my fourth year and it's time for myself, as well as a few other guys, to start making a name for yourself and show you're a leader and show you want to be out there.''

Williams and rookie linemate Eric Staal gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead midway through the second period with a pretty back-and-forth play that took them from neutral ice to the Atlanta net.

Staal flipped the puck from the red line boards to Williams, who broke into the Atlanta zone and dropped the puck back to Staal. He then raced to the net to put the rebound of Staal's slap shot past Pasi Nurminen.

``Pasi was very good tonight. It's not his fault _ goalmouth passes, one-times, screened shots,'' Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. ``I felt he gave us the chance to win.''

Craig Adams opened the scoring, taking a pass from Rod Brind'Amour behind the Atlanta net and firing it past Nurminen midway in the first period.

Thrashers captain Shawn McEachern narrowly managed to even the score 3{ minutes into the second period. His shot bounced off the right goalpost behind Kevin Weekes, skittered across the line and tapped the twine behind the left post before bouncing back out of the net.

In the third period, Bret Hedican spread the Carolina lead to 3-1 with a slap shot just 45 seconds in. Atlanta cut it back to 3-2 about a minute later when Ilya Kovalchuck fed a pass through the crease that Patrik Stefan fired past Weekes.

But Carolina's Eric Cole sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 34 seconds left.

The Hurricanes dominated play just two days after a painful 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay. In their first game without Francis on Wednesday, traded a day earlier to Toronto, Carolina gave up goals on the Lightning's first two shots and couldn't connect on a number of scoring chances.

The Hurricanes were also in their second game without Jeff O'Neill, who was tied with Williams at 34 points _ second on the team _ when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last weekend.

``I don't think you replace those guys,'' Laviolette said. ``But I've also said there's an opportunity, whether it's injury or trade or whatever the case may be, it leads to opportunity for other people.''

The Thrashers' winless streak stands at four games. Atlanta was also coming off a tough loss, 2-0 to the New York Rangers on Tuesday.

With both teams all but out of playoff contention, the game was played for little more than bragging rights.

Still, with Carolina leading the season series 4-1 and one more meeting Tuesday in Atlanta, the Hurricanes weren't willing to concede the season's nearly over.

``We don't know how the teams are going to end up. We don't know who's going to win which games,'' Williams said. ``We don't know how the games are going to turn out. But we can definitely predict how we're going to play.''

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