Hurricanes beat Atlanta to inch toward playoffs

Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu each had a goal and two assists and the Carolina Hurricanes moved closer to an Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.

Carolina needs a home win Saturday over Tampa Bay or a regulation loss by the New York Rangers to make the playoffs for the first time since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

Erik Cole, Joni Pitkanen, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen also scored for Carolina, which led 6-0 on Ruutu's 19th goal, which came on a power play with 12:10 remaining.

Cam 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 and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They got a big assist Thursday from the Thrashers, who beat the Rangers 3-0 in New York.

Atlanta, which has lost three of four, showed its frustration in the third period.

Ondrej Pavelec threw his stick out to his blue line after Jokinen made it 5-0 with 13:20 remaining, and the resulting unsportsmanlike penalty led to Ruutu's goal 1:10 later.

With 9:13 left in the game, Thrashers defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was given and a game misconduct and whistled for roughing and slashing minors.

Ward, who was making his 15th straight start, improved to 9-2-1 in his last 13. In 31 career appearances against Atlanta, Ward is 19-8-3.

Skinner's 31st goal came courtesy of Ruutu's takeaway in the neutral zone from Thrashers defenseman 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 wrister.

Cole's 26th goal, a wrister that started with a giveaway by Atlanta center Nik Antropov, 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 defenseman 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.

NOTES: The Hurricanes went 5-0-1 in the season series with Atlanta. ... In the last nine series meetings, Carolina is 8-1-0.