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Ron Francis readily admits that no one will ever compare him with Mario Lemieux. But after Friday night, the two former teammates are at least equal in one aspect.

Francis had an assist upping his career point total to 1,494 to tie him with Lemieux for sixth place on the NHL career points list in helping the Carolina Hurricanes to a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

"(Lemieux's) a gentleman that I admired and played a long time with and certainly appreciate his talents. To finally be able to catch him is something special," said Francis.

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  • Francis, who won two Stanley Cups alongside Lemieux in Pittsburgh, is already anticipating a call from the new Penguins' owner.

    "I'm sure he'll call me and tell me that he did it in fewer games," the 19-year veteran said laughing. "Nonetheless, it's sure an honor when you catch a guy of his stature."

    The milestone assist came by way of hard work as Francis dug the puck out of the corner and set up Bates Battaglia for a one-timer in the high slot that put the Hurricanes up 3-0 midway through the second period.

    Along with catching Lemieux, the asisst was the 1,042nd of Francis' career, sixth on the all-time list and seven behind Gordie Howe.

    It was a big night for another Hurricane as goalie Eric Fichaud, making his first start in over 10 months, stopped 15 shots to record first NHL victory since Nov. 29, 1997 when he was with the New York Islanders.

    "It's pretty exciting to win. But you've got to give credit to the guys, they played a great defensive game tonight," said Fichaud, who kept the game puck as a souvenier.

    "My last win, I think it was against St. Louis," said Fichaud, correctly. "I've had some tough breakin the past but the past is over. Now I'm glad to be here with a great team and a great defensive team."

    Fichaud, in fact, came 35.3 seconds away from recording his second career shutout, but Vancouver's Andrew Cassels scored a power-play goal.

    Jeff O'Neill scored twice, while Battaglia and Sami Kapanen had a goal and assist each as the Hurricanes, coming off a loss and two straight ties, improved their record to 3-1-2.

    The Hurricanes sealed the win by scoring three goals on five shots over a 4:26 span to build a 4-0 lead with 6:47 left in the second period. Appearing to give up, the Canucks went more than 12 minutes before managing their first shot on net in the third period and finished with three in the period.

    "It wasn't a very good performance by us," said Canucks' coach Marc Crawford. "We knew we had to play a very disciplined game and we didn't. I thought the big difference in the game is when they got the lead it allowed them to get more confident in their play. And we lost our focus."

    Vancouver has now lost two in a row after opening the season with three straight victories. The Canucks now embark on a six-game, 11-day road trip, the team's longest of the season.

    Vancouver was forced to go with Weekes after No. 1 goalie Garth Snow fractured the index finger on his blocking hand during Wednesday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames.

    Snow, who will be out a minimum four weeks, initially suffered the injury in a preseason game and missed the first two games of the regular season before being cleared to play. Fearing opposing teams would target Snow's injured hand, the Canucks first described Snow's original injury as a pulled groin.

    With Snow out indefinitely, the Canucks called up Alfie Michaud from their American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse.

    Canucks president and general manager Brian Burke said he's not comfortable going with two young goalies and will seriously consider adding a more experienced netminder either by trade or through the waiver draft.

    "It is something I'm comfortable with going with those two guys? No. That's an issue we're going to address," said Burke.

    Said Snow: "It's tough but I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. I never have. I'm just going to come back stronger."

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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