ATLANTA – The Carolina Hurricanes have reduced the playoff race to win day.
After routing Atlanta 6-1 on Friday night, the Hurricanes need a home win Saturday night over Tampa Bay or a regulation loss by the New York Rangers to New Jersey to make the playoffs for the first time since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.
“We’re in control of our own fate,” goalie Cam Ward said. “Certainly it is not over. Tomorrow will be a big day for us.”
Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu each had a goal and two assists against the Thrashers.
“There have been moments this last week when it looked pretty grim,” forward Erik Cole said. “It was nice to see and be a part of our regrouping.”
Cole, Joni Pitkanen, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen also scored for Carolina, which led 6-0 on Ruutu’s 19th, a power-play goal with 12:10 remaining.
Ward, who shut out Detroit 3-0 on Wednesday night, was just 39 seconds from earning his second straight shutout and the 17th of his career before Bryan Little’s 18th goal made it 6-1.
The Hurricanes have won two straight, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They got a big assist Thursday night when the Thrashers beat the Rangers 3-0 in New York.
Atlanta, which has lost three of four, showed its frustration in the third period.
Ondrej Pavelec broke his stick by throwing it against the wall and watching a big piece of it land near his blue line after Jokinen made it 5-0 with 13:20 left. The resulting unsportsmanlike penalty on Pavelec led to Ruutu’s goal 1:10 later.
“I feel like a loser right now, to be honest,” Pavelec said after facing 32 shots. “It’s hard to talk about this game now. To be down 6-0 in front of our home fans is very disappointing.”
With 9:13 left in the game, Thrashers defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was given a game misconduct and whistled for roughing and slashing minors.
“We looked like a team that just played five games in a row on the road,” Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. “Unfortunately, we can’t talk about that or use it as an excuse, but we looked tired. We tried to win this game as individuals instead of as a team.”
Ward, making his 15th straight start, stopped 18 of 19 shots to improve to 9-2-1 in his last 13. In 31 career appearances against Atlanta, Ward is 19-8-3.
“We played a really solid game,” Ward said. “It was a quiet game for me most of the night.”
Skinner’s 31st goal came courtesy of Ruutu’s takeaway in the neutral zone from Thrashers defenceman Zach Bogosian and his pass from the left circle. Skinner, who lead all NHL rookies with 62, made it 1-0 by beating Pavelec 3:03 into the first with a wristshot.
“Hopefully tomorrow we’ll execute the same way,” Skinner said. “The whole team played well. We moved the puck with confidence.”
Cole’s 26th goal, a wrister that started with a giveaway by Atlanta defenceman Ron Hainsey, gave the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead 3:12 later.
Pitkanen’s fifth goal put Carolina up 3-0 in the first minute of second as the defenceman easily moved past Mark Stuart in open ice to beat Pavelec.
In the third, Sutter added his 14th goal with 14:38 remaining and Jokinen his 19th with 13:20 left.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice believes his team has the proper mindset to earn a playoff spot.
“Nothing has really changed,” Maurice said. “Tomorrow night is the one we’re focusing on. It will be a challenge for us.”
NOTES: Cole scored five goals in six games against the Thrashers this season. … The Hurricanes went 5-0-1 in the season series. … In the last nine series meetings, Carolina is 8-1-0.