Aiming for their first postseason appearance in franchise history, the Atlanta Thrashers are playing some of their best hockey of the season.
The Thrashers look to win a club-record sixth straight game and continue their dominance over the Florida Panthers when the teams meet on Saturday at BankAtlantic Center.
Atlanta (36-23-10) has moved two points ahead of Tampa Bay for first place in the Southeast Division with its latest run, and is closing in on the first playoff berth in the franchise's seven-year history.
The Thrashers defeated Montreal 6-2 on Thursday to match the club mark of five consecutive victories. They have won five straight on four separate occasions since their inaugural season in 1999-2000, with three of those runs coming this season.
Atlanta is outscoring its opponents 20-9 during the win streak, with Kari Lehtonen providing solid play in goal. Lehtonen had 33 saves on Thursday and has started each game of the winning streak, posting a 1.80 goals-against average in that span.
"Our goalie, again, played outstanding," said Keith Tkachuk, who hasn't lost with the Thrashers since being acquired from St. Louis on Feb. 25. "Everything we seemed to be shooting was going in. It's fun right now, good things are happening, and that's the way we have to play."
Tkachuk scored his first two goals with Atlanta in a 4-2 victory over the Panthers (28-27-13) on Tuesday.
While the Thrashers haven't lost a game in two weeks, they haven't lost to Florida all season. Atlanta has won all six meetings and is 11-2-1 against the Panthers since the start of last season.
Lehtonen has started all six matchups against the Panthers, and has a 1.34 GAA and two shutouts in those contests. Atlanta is outscoring Florida 24-8, with its top goal scorers of Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk leading the way.
Hossa, who has a team-high 39 goals, has six goals and two assists against Florida this season. He has nine goals and seven assists in his last 10 games against the Panthers, and his 24 goals and 46 points are his most versus any opponent.
The four-time All-Star had two assists on Thursday, giving him six goals and nine assists during a season-high nine-game point streak.
Kovalchuk, who has scored in three straight games to give him 36 goals, has seven goals and four assists against the Panthers this season.
Florida defeated Philadelphia 2-1 on Thursday as it continues to remain in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have won five of their last six, losing only to Atlanta in that span.
Ed Belfour made 26 saves against the Flyers to improve to 8-2-2 with a 2.37 GAA since Feb. 10.
"We've been getting all-star goaltending," said Chris Gratton, who had a goal and an assist on Thursday. "Eddie has been playing unbelievable for us the whole year. He's been our best player night in and night out.
"When you have a 40-year-old guy doing that, it motivates guys and you want to win for him because he's such a competitor."
Belfour, like most of his teammates, has struggled against the Thrashers this season, though, going 0-3-0 with a 3.99 GAA in four games.
These teams conclude their season series on March 28 at BankAtlantic Center.
|Mar 28 '07||ATL 2 at FLA 3 - SO||N. Horton|
|Mar 10 '07||ATL 2 at FLA 3||J. Bouwmeester|
|Mar 06 '07||FLA 2 at ATL 4||I. Kovalchuk|
|Dec 02 '06||ATL 3 at FLA 1||G. Metropolit|
|Nov 25 '06||FLA 0 at ATL 1||I. Kovalchuk|
|Oct 23 '06||ATL 6 at FLA 3||S. Mellanby|
|Oct 21 '06||FLA 2 at ATL 4||I. Kovalchuk|
|Oct 07 '06||FLA 0 at ATL 6||J. Sim|