ATLANTA (AP) — Carolina goalie Cam Ward made a brilliant return after being out nearly two months, Erik Cole scored a decisive goal with 4:11 left and the Hurricanes beat the Thrashers 4-1 Monday night, dealing a blow to Atlanta’s playoff hopes.

Jussi Jokinen scored twice for Carolina, including an empty-net goal after the desperate Thrashers pulled Johan Hedberg for an extra skater with more than 2 minutes left. Atlanta missed a chance to pull even with Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Jokinen’s first goal broke a 1-1 tie in the second period, and Cole finished off the Thrashers by ripping a shot past Hedberg after Ward had turned away Atlanta’s repeated chances. Ward made 26 saves in his first contest since Feb. 3, having missed 19 games with a back injury.

Predators 3, Panthers 2, OT

 SUNRISE, Fla. — Francis Bouillon scored a minute into overtime to lift the Nashville Predators to a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist also scored for Nashville. Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss had third-period goals for Florida, which lost its third straight game.

Scott Clemmensen stopped 22 shots for the Panthers and Dan Ellis made 27 saves for the Predators.

Clemmensen got the start in favor of Tomas Vokoun, Nashville’s former goalie, who has won just one of his past seven games. Both Ellis and Clemmensen appeared in the only other meeting between the Panthers and Predators this season, a 4-1 Nashville win on Nov. 28, 2009.