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Hurricanes celebrate crown

The Carolina Hurricanes gathered with their fans yesterday to relish the team's first NHL championship, the first major pro title in state history, and above all the Stanley Cup -- the 114-year-old silver chalice that signaled to all hockey has a home in North Carolina.

``Nine years in the making. It's about time," said Adrian Ionescu, 19, of Cary, who was part of the estimated crowd of 30,000 fans.

In the team's second trip to the Cup finals since the ex-Hartford Whalers moved south in 1997, the Hurricanes beat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games, unleashing yesterday's parade of pickup trucks carting players through a cheering crowd of Caniacs at the RBC Center in Raleigh.

Assistant captain Glen Wesley held the Cup aloft as children in his truck pitched foam pucks into the crowd.

``I didn't know what to expect," said defenseman Mike Commodore. ``I didn't know how many people would show up, but there's a lot of people here. People are excited and it's great."

The party will continue today when the team heads to the state House chamber before an afternoon parade through downtown, capping a celebration that started the moment Carolina won the Cup Monday night.

In contrast, about 100 fans gathered at the Edmonton International Airport yesterday to welcome the Oilers home, but police had urged fans not to come to the airport because of space restrictions, telling them instead to attend a rally today.

Carolina's Game 7 win had a 3.3 rating and 6 share on NBC, down 21 percent from Game 7 in 2004 -- the last season before the lockout.

In 2004, the Lightning's Game 7 victory over the Flames had a 4.2 rating and a 7 share on ABC.

``The ratings are in line with our projections," said Brian Walker, director of communications for NBC Sports.

``We were thrilled with the product on the ice. The rule changes had a huge impact. The hockey this season was fantastic."

Sakic is back
Avalanche captain Joe Sakic signed a one-year deal to stay in Colorado. Sakic, who has played all 17 seasons with the Avalanche franchise, turns 37 next month. He said he thought a one-year contract extension was fair to both sides, but he hopes to play at least two more seasons. Sakic ranks 11th on the NHL's all-time list in points (1,489), 15th in assists (915), and 17th in goals (574) . . . Buffalo Sabres cocaptain Daniel Briere received the team's one-year $1.94 million qualifying offer, but yesterday his agent said that he plans to negotiate an even better deal for the player . . . The Columbus Blue Jackets re-signed Manny Malhotra, who set career highs for assists and points this season, to a three-year contract. Malhotra, 26, had 10 goals and 21 assists in 58 games this season.

Canucks tap Vigneault
Former Canadiens coach Alain Vigneault was hired as coach of the Canucks, who promoted him from their minor league affiliate. He replaces Marc Crawford, who was fired in April after missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons and since has been hired as coach of the Kings. Vigneault coached the Canadiens for more than three seasons (1997-01) and spent 2005-06 behind the bench of the Manitoba Moose. He led the AHL team to its first 100-point season and the second round of the playoffs. The 45-year-old was 109-113-39-5 in Montreal. After a strong 1999-2000 season, the Canadiens started the next year 5-8-6-1 and Vigneault was fired after 20 games.

Cap rising higher
The salary cap will be about $44 million next season, an increase of $5 million per team, after league revenues were higher than expected in the first year following the season-long lockout. Commissioner Gary Bettman and Players Association executive director Ted Saskin met Monday in New York and set the upper level of the cap at approximately $44 million, with the minimum rising to about $28 million, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting who declined to be identified because the final figures have not been released.

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