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Babchuk's OT game-winner lifts Hurricanes to first home win

Oct 26, 2006 - 1:55 AM RALEIGH, North Carolina (Ticker) -- While it was not nearly as exciting as the Carolina Hurricanes' last home victory, Anton Babchuk sent the RBC Center crowd home with a collective smile.

Babchuk scored 71 seconds into overtime as the Hurricanes posted a thrilling 5-4 triumph over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Just over a minute into the extra session, Justin Williams intercepted a clearing attempt by Atlanta defenseman Greg de Vries and held the puck in the left corner. He spotted a streaking Babchuk in the slot and hit the Russian blue-liner, who shifted to his backhand and slipped the puck past goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

"If (Lehtonen) had stayed in the net, I probably wouldn't have shot it," Babchuk said. "But he stepped in front of me and I didn't have a big angle to shoot it, so I tried a different move."

It was the first goal of the season for Babchuk, who entered with just five tallies in 51 career games. Before Wednesday, the 22-year-old never had scored a game-winner in his three-year career.

"I just play hard every night no matter who is in the lineup," Babchuk said. "If have the opportunity for one shift or 30 shifts, I play hard."

Babchuk's nifty goal gave the Hurricanes their first win in three home games this season. They had not won at the RBC Center since capturing Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals with a 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers in June.

Eric Staal, Scott Walker, Ryan Bayda and defenseman Andrew Hutchinson scored in regulation and Cam Ward made 32 saves for the Hurricanes, who were coming off a disappointing 3-3-1 road trip.

"Just for team morale, we needed it," Williams said. "We've been through some tough times. Nothing has been easy for us to start the season."

Staal drew Carolina into a 1-1 tie 4:53 into the contest when he beat Lehtonen on a 2-on-1 rush. Walker added a power-play goal on a deflection about 12 minutes later and Hutchinson capped the big first period with a blast from the high slot at 19:23.

"I'm sure (the Thrashers) got an earful after the first period," Ward said. "They probably weren't very satisfied with what took place in the first and we knew they were going to come out strong in the second."

Indeed, Atlanta came back with a fury in the middle session. Ilya Kovalchuk forced a turnover and fed Jon Sim at 11:31 to make it 3-2 and captain Scott Mellanby tallied on a rebound off the end boards at 17:21 to even things.

After Bayda put Carolina ahead early in the third period, Kovalchuk forged a 4-4 tie on a deflection with 11:39 remaining. But Ward held his ground the remainder of the way as the Thrashers had their four-game winning streak halted.

"It's a good thing Cam was in there or we might have been in trouble," Staal said. "Cam played great."

Lehtonen finished with 33 saves for Atlanta (7-1-2), which has suffered two of its three losses this season against Carolina.

"Kari gave us a chance to win," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "He was as good as usual and it came down to the last shot and they were just better than us."

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