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Carolina is 4-2 under Laviolette

12/29/2003

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- After reaching several milestones the past
few seasons in losses, Ron Francis was able to enjoy his latest
accomplishment during a win.

The Carolina captain tied for fourth on the NHL's all-time
points list with a goal and the Hurricanes finally solved Buffalo's
Mika Noronen, beating the Sabres 2-1 Monday night.

"The guys are working hard and it's nice to get it in a game
that helps us win," Francis said when asked about tying Marcel
Dionne with 1,771 points. "That's the most special part about
it."

Carolina won its second straight at the start of a seven-game
homestand and improved to 4-2 under new coach Peter Laviolette. All
of the wins have been by 2-1 scores.

"It's a great number, isn't it?" Francis said of the 2-1
scores. "I was actually getting excited when we had two goals
halfway through the second, thinking we might get three or four
tonight. In the end, 2-1 was good enough again."

Meanwhile, the Sabres had their three-game unbeaten streak
snapped.

"We had 12 shots after two periods and it just didn't seem like
we had a lot of gas," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "When you
don't skate well not a lot of good things happen for you."

Noronen had beaten Carolina 5-0 and 3-1 in the last five weeks
with some spectacular goaltending. But Francis scored his goal
early in the second period and Bret Hedican added one later to
erase a one-goal Buffalo lead.

Francis, in his 23rd season, chipped in a loose puck in traffic
after a shot from Jeff O'Neill bounced high in the air in front of
the Buffalo net.

"It was a big goal for our team and a big goal for him,"
O'Neill said. "It seems like I've said it 100 times but he's in
some company that's unbelievable for the rest of the guys in this
locker room.

"And somehow I always seem to snivel in some kind of assist or
goal on his milestones. Somehow I get my ugly face into the action,
but it's been fun the last five or six years seeing him climb up
the ladder."

The goal was also the 542nd of his career, passing Stan Mikita
for 21st place.

Hedican's shot from the point deflected off a Buffalo defenseman
and past Noronen with 4:50 left in the second.

Noronen kept it a one-goal game with 2:53 remaining when he
robbed O'Neill as he broke in free.

Danny Markov and Eric Staal hit posts in the first 10 minutes as
Carolina's first-period scoring woes continued. The Hurricanes have
just 16 first-period goals in 36 games.

Curtis Brown gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead with 1:21 left in the
period when he backhanded a rebound past Kevin Weekes.

Game notes
Chris Drury returned to the Buffalo lineup after missing
four games with a separated shoulder. ... Weekes started his 16th
straight game. ... Jay McKee picked up his first point since last
February on Brown's goal, a span of 29 games. ... Francis' goal was
just his second in December. ... Carolina has gotten four goals
from defensemen in its last three games.