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After a disappointing finish to 2008, things could not be going much better for the Florida Panthers in the new year.
The Panthers look to continue their offensive surge and win three games in a row for the first time in a month when they host the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday.
Florida (19-16-6) went 0-3-1 in its final four games of December, but has opened 2009 3-0-1. The Panthers' offense has been a big reason for the latest turnaround, scoring 19 goals in the last four games.
David Booth had a goal and an assist in Thursday's 4-2 win over Carolina. He has five goals and six assists during a career-best seven-game point streak after recording just one assist in his previous five games.
"You never want to be satisfied with how you are playing," said Booth, who has three goals in two games against the Thrashers (14-23-5) this season. "In this league, you have to keep getting stronger and working harder if you want to be successful."
Florida's Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves on Thursday and has allowed two goals in winning each of his last two games after going 0-2-0 with a 4.68 goals-against average in his previous four outings.
Florida, which has not been to the playoffs since 2000, is seeking its first three-game winning streak since Dec. 8-12.
While the Panthers are competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta needs to play like it did Thursday if it wants to avoid missing the postseason for the eighth time in its nine-year history.
The Thrashers defeated New Jersey 4-0 after being outscored 7-2 in losing their previous two games. Atlanta is 2-5-1 since Dec. 26 and has not posted back-to-back victories since a five-game winning streak from Nov. 2-14 - the only time this season it has won consecutive games.
"Hopefully in the second half of the season we will get way more points than we did in the first half," left wing Ilya Kovalchuk said.
Kovalchuk continued his strong play with a goal and an assist Thursday, giving him four goals and two assists in his last five games.
Kovalchuk, who was picked as a reserve for the East in the NHL All-Star game, had two goals and an assist in Atlanta's 5-3 win over the Panthers on Nov. 2. He has 16 goals and 11 assists in 18 games versus Florida since 2006-07 - his most goals and points against any opponent in that span.
Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen finished with 29 saves against the Devils for his first shutout of the season. He is 3-5-0 with a 2.86 GAA since missing 21 games with back stiffness.
In his only game of the season against Florida on Oct. 11, Lehtonen made 35 saves in the Thrashers' 3-2 overtime loss. He is 1-2-4 with a 2.64 GAA in his last seven games versus the Panthers.