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RANGERS (21-17-5) at THRASHERS (18-18-6)
Last 10 -- New York 7-1-2; Atlanta 1-6-3
Season series -- It's the third of four meetings between the teams, but the first visit by the Rangers to Philips Arena. Atlanta won both trips to MadisonSquareGarden, beating the Rangers 5-3 on Nov. 12 and 3-2 in a shootout on Dec. 14. The Thrashers have won their last four games against the Rangers -- three of them in shootouts.
Big story -- To say that the Thrashers are glad to be back home is an understatement. Atlanta went 0-5-2 on a seven-game trip that concluded with a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and is 0-6-3 in its last nine games overall. But though they've had success against the Rangers this season, Atlanta is catching New York at a bad time -- the Blueshirts are coming off a 5-2 home win over Dallas on Wednesday and are 3-0-1 in their last four games while allowing only six goals.
Rangers -- The Rangers want Sean Avery to be an agitator -- but also an offensive contributor. He was both on Wednesday night, scoring his first goal in 19 games and adding three assists for to match a career high with a four-point night in the win over Dallas.
"That was the way that Sean Avery needs to play," Avery said. "I've got to stay consistent with it, and know that the support's there for my teammates when something happens that maybe shouldn't and know that the positives are going to outweigh the negatives."
Avery even got a verbal pat on the back from his coach.
"He plays with an edge," John Tortorella said. "He is an important part to our hockey club when he plays on edge and when he plays a north-south hockey game. I thought he was very efficient with that tonight."
Thrashers -- Atlanta's slide has dropped the Thrashers out of the top eight in the East, but coach John Anderson knows there's plenty of time to put the wheels back on. However, Atlanta has to get on a roll at home, where the Thrashers are just 8-7-3.
"Obviously, it's imperative [to win at home] if we want to get back in the race," Anderson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're not that far out of it, but we've got to get back in the swing of things. ... We feel like we have to win."
Who's hot -- Rangers center Erik Christensen, an ex-Thrasher, is 2-3-5 during a four-game points streak. …Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk has 6 goals and 6 assists for 12 points during the nine-game slide. He has 9 goals and 10 assists in the past 13 games and is fourth in the NHL with 25 goals.
Injury report -- The Rangers are likely to be without forward Vaclav Prospal for another week after arthroscopic knee surgery. … Atlanta's top-line center, Nik Antropov, was a late scratch Tuesday with a hip injury.
Stat pack -- Rangers forward Marian Gaborik has 28 goals through the team's first 43 games as he tries to become the fourth 50-goal scorer in franchise history. He trails Vic Hadfield's mark of 29 through 43 in 1971-72 by one goal, and is one goal ahead of Jaromir Jagr's mark of 27 through 43 in 2005-06 and Adam Graves' 27 through 43 in 1993-94. Gaborik has 38 goals in his last 51 games, including 10 goals in his final 10 games of last season. … The Thrashers' franchise record for longest losing streak is 12 (0-11 plus an overtime loss from Jan. 24 to Feb. 20, 2000. The Thrashers have surrendered 41 goals in the past nine games, an average of 4.6 a game. They have fallen to 28th in the NHL with a 3.26 goals-against average.
Puck drop -- If the game goes past overtime, the odds would appear to be with the Thrashers. The teams have gone past regulation time 10 times since 2003 -- and the Thrashers have gone home with the extra point eight times. At this stage of the season, the Thrashers need every point they can get.
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