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Hurricanes 4, Thrashers 1 @NHLdotcom

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The feeling in the locker room was strong. No one on the Carolina Hurricanes wanted to disappoint former captain Ron Francis on his night.

``We wanted to give a special effort, we wanted to win this game for him,'' defenseman Bret Hedican said. ``We talked about it, and came out playing the game we wanted to play.''

Justin Williams and Erik Cole scored in the first period, Martin Gerber stopped 17 shots and Carolina celebrated the retirement of Francis' number with a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night.

Newly acquired Anton Babchuk had his first goal for the Hurricanes, who won their team-record ninth straight at home to increase their lead over Ottawa to four points in the chase for the NHL's best record. Overall, they have won 13 of their past 14 games.

Kevyn Adams added an empty-netter in the final minute, his 50th career goal.

``It was a full-fledged march to the offensive zone,'' Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. ``However we could get there, we were just going to keep our foot on the gas and keep going after it.''

It all came after Carolina raised the No. 10 worn by Francis into the rafters during a pregame ceremony. He spent 16 years with the franchise - the first 10 came in Hartford - and completed his career second in NHL history to Wayne Gretzky with 1,249 assists.

Francis also ranked among the career leaders with 1,731 games (third), 549 goals (19th) and 1,798 points (fourth). He donned his familiar sweater and led the Hurricanes on the ice one final time, then took a victory lap around the rink to a standing ovation.

``I had chills,'' Hedican said.

Later, his former teammates gave him perhaps the best tribute with a dominating performance to beat the Thrashers in the second game of a home-and-home.

``I feel fortunate to not only be a part of Ronnie's career, but the ceremony here,'' Cole said. ``For all the records and all the accolades that he's had through his unbelievable career, he's a great person.''

Atlanta's Marc Savard had a power-play goal early in the third period, but even snapping his team's horrid play with the man-advantage wasn't enough to stop a fifth loss in a row. The Thrashers were 1-for-17 over the previous four games, and they weren't much better in this one.

They failed to capitalize on their first seven opportunities before Savard finally broke through.

``Our best players are simply not our best players right now, it's as simple as this,'' Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. ``You don't have to look very far. Many of them are cheating, and they think that they're going to solve it by cheating.

``Cheating does not get you two points.''

Any thoughts that Carolina might be distracted by the circumstances were quickly dismissed, when Williams corralled a rebound and beat Kari Lehtonen with a wraparound about 4 minutes after the opening faceoff. Cole added another by deflecting in a shot from Frantisek Kaberle, and the Hurricanes led 2-0.

``We don't focus on the little details,'' Hartley said. ``Right now, we're squeezing the stick. You can't expect to win like this.''

Babchuk, who arrived from Chicago in a trade Jan. 20, stretched the margin to three goals with a blast from the point on the power play.

``It's not about goals, it's more important to win games,'' Babchuk said. ``Everybody tries to help the team win, and my goal helped, so I'm just happy about that.''

Notes: Carolina C Matt Cullen, who had surgery to immobilize his broken jaw Friday, was placed on the injured list before the game, and RW Jesse Boulerice and LW Niklas Nordgren were recalled from Lowell of the American Hockey League. Cullen is expected to miss two to four weeks. ... The Thrashers return home to face Buffalo on Tuesday night, then hit the road for six of their next seven games spanning the Olympic break.

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