'Canes Ground Thrashers on Ron Francis Night
With the former captain looking on and his retired No. 10 hoisted to the RBC Center rafters, the Carolina Hurricanes extended their franchise record home winning streak to nine straight with a 4-1 victory over the Thrashers on Saturday night.
The standing-room only crowd of 18,930 was jacked up from the opening warm-ups when the entire Carolina team came out wearing No. 10 jerseys to honor Francis, who played 23 NHL seasons and finished fourth on the all-time scoring list.
"All week I wasn't sure how it was going to go and how I was going to react, and I had a lot of sleepless nights leading up to tonight but it was kind of a remarkable feeling," Francis said. "I dressed with the boys before the game and I felt a sort of calm and when I went on the ice I was able to hold it together. It was a fun night."
"There aren't too many times in my career when I've had chills in warm-ups, but I did tonight when I stepped on the ice with that Ronnie Francis number on," Bret Hedican said. "He has represented everything in this community for hockey and he has carried the franchise on his back and kept hockey in Raleigh."
The half-hour Francis ceremony was moving and emotional, then the Hurricanes wasted little time jumping on the Thrashers, who also lost to Carolina 5-1 on Thursday night in Atlanta.
Justin Williams and Erik Cole scored less than 10 minutes in for a 2-0 lead.
"This night belonged to Ronnie and we dedicated it to him," said Williams, who also added an assist on Kevyn Adams' empty-net goal to close out Carolina's four-goal night."
Williams notched his career-best 18th of the season on a wrap-around shot that trickled into the Atlanta net, while Cole added his 20th on a nifty deflection off a shot from Frank Kaberle.
Carolina went up 3-0 in the second when newly-acquired defenseman Anton Babchuk blasted his first goal with the Hurricanes past Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen.
"I like to play on the power play," said the 6-foot-5 Babchuk, who was acquired from Chicago for defenseman Danny Richmond on Jan. 20. "I play on the point so when they give me those one-timers I just try to hit the net."
The Thrashers managed just 18 shots, mostly because Carolina logged nine power plays. Despite little action, Martin Gerber came up big late in the second period when he stoned Marian Hossa with a pad save on a 2-on-1 break.
Since 9-0 and 5-2 losses to Atlanta earlier in the season, the Canes have now beaten the Thrashers three straight and have improved to 11-5-1 against Southeast Division teams.
"Losing the first two to Atlanta kind of got us second-guessing ourselves," Williams said. "But we've come back strong and we just keep rolling along and go about our business. We're doing it humbly with a little bit of an edge."
The win improved Carolina's home record to an NHL-best 23-4-1 and its January mark to a remarkable 12-1 with one game left in the month at Montreal.
Cole credited coach Peter Laviolette with stressing the home ice advantage heading into the season and his teammates for taking it to heart.
"We used to be a pretty miserable home team two years ago," Cole said. "It was something Peter addressed, that it was too easy for teams to come in here and take two points from us, and we needed to be better at home and more aggressive."
With Ottawa idle, the Canes are now four points ahead of the Senators for the best mark in the Eastern Conference.
"I thought the guys played so unbelievably hard tonight to make sure we ended the night in the right way," Laviolette said. "The guys in the room really stepped up big and put their foot on the gas pedal. It was a full-fledged march into the offensive zone."