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Ward makes 19 saves for ninth career shutout as Hurricanes beat Thrashers 2-0

NHL.com @NHL

RALEIGH, N.C. - Cam Ward made 19 saves for his second shutout in two weeks, and Matt Cullen had a goal and an assist for the second straight game in the Carolina Hurricanes' 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night.

Cullen and Ray Whitney scored during a dominating first period, and the Hurricanes held on for their fourth win in five games while sending the Thrashers to their fourth straight loss.

With a sweep of struggling Southeast Division rivals Tampa Bay and Atlanta, the Hurricanes moved back into second place - one point ahead of Florida - in the division. Now Carolina heads to the West Coast for game against Vancouver, San Jose and Phoenix.

Ward, making his 16th straight start, finished with his third shutout of the season and the ninth of his career. He blanked Toronto 2-0 on Jan. 19 and, in his last game, shut out the Lightning over the final two periods.

Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen made 38 saves and kept his team in the game with several spectacular stops. But he was under siege all night for the Thrashers, who couldn't get anything going offensively. They were held to four shots in both the first and third periods, and have scored a total seven goals during their four-game slide.

They have lost three straight to Carolina - all in the two months since coach Paul Maurice was rehired by the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes held a 40-19 shots advantage and were the aggressors all night long - even when the Thrashers were on the power play. After not scoring a short-handed goal during their first 49 games, they now have done it in each of their last two outings.

Cullen took his turn to score short-handed midway through the first - and midway through a tripping penalty to Eric Staal - when he put the Hurricanes up 1-0. He took a feed near centre ice from Chad LaRose - who scored a short-handed goal two nights earlier - and skated in alone on Lehtonen, beating the Atlanta goalie with a high wrist shot for his 12th goal.

Later in the period, Whitney stretched the lead to two on a set play in which he took a pass from Cullen in open ice and deked Lehtonen before sliding the puck through his legs for his 16th goal.

Those scores came during an overwhelming opening 20 minutes in which the Hurricanes outshot the Thrashers 21-4. Atlanta was fortunate that its deficit was only two goals - Tuomo Ruutu rang the left post, and Joni Pitkanen missed an open net, while the Thrashers couldn't put a puck on net until about 6 minutes in.

Notes: LaRose has points in three straight games, and Cullen has points in five of seven. ... Maurice coached his 700th game with the Carolina franchise. He's the 14th coach in NHL history to reach that milestone, and the third who is active. ... Atlanta C Bryan Little, who shares the team lead with 21 goals, went scoreless for the fifth straight game. ... The game marked the nightcap of a basketball-hockey doubleheader at the RBC Center. Roughly 2 1/2 hours before the opening faceoff, No. 5 North Carolina finished off a 93-76 rout of N.C. State.

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