PANTHERS (24-27-10) at THRASHERS (26-24-10)
Last 10: Florida 3-6-1; Atlanta 4-3-3
Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Southeast Division rivals. Niclas Bergfors scored the go-ahead goal with 4:26 remaining as Atlanta won the most recent matchup, 4-2 on Feb. 6, its third win in five tries against Florida. Radek Dvorak and Stephen Weiss have three goals apiece for the Panthers, while goalie Tomas Vokoun has split four decisions, including a 1-0 win on Jan. 18 in which he stopped all 27 shots by the Thrashers.
Big story: Atlanta resumes play following the Olympic break just two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference while Florida is six off the pace. However, both teams have made deals recently that suggest they may be looking toward the future. For the Thrashers, it was trading Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils early last month. They received Bergfors, two other players and a draft pick. On Monday, the Panthers sent defenseman Jordan Leopold to the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins for a draft pick.
Panthers: While Vokoun was tending goal for the Czech Republic in Vancouver, he probably hoped his Florida teammates were working on their goal scoring. The Panthers scored two goals or less in 13 consecutive games entering the break, meaning Vokoun had to be brilliant most nights for the team to have any chance.
Scott Clemmensen, who hasn't appeared in a game since late December, will get the start for the Panthers on Tuesday. Vokoun had gotten the nod in 21 straight games.
"When you don't play as often, you do have a limited window to prove yourself," Clemmensen told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "You want to make the most of it because you never know when your next [action] is going to come."
Thrashers: Another new face will surface in the Atlanta dressing room as Evgeny Artyukhin was acquired Monday from Anaheim in exchange for Nathan Oystrick and a draft pick. Artyukhin joins Bergfors and Johnny Oduya as recent additions to the Thrashers' roster.
Although they lost 5-2 to the Capitals in their first game after the Kovalchuk deal, the Thrashers have gone 2-0-2 since, staying very much afloat in the playoff hunt. GM Don Waddell says he is still looking to improve the club.
"If we could add a little size up front, that would be my wish list," he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "You'd like to get a little bigger. I like our skill level but with a lot of our guys -- [Bryan] Little, Bergfors, [Rich] Peverley -- we are not real big up front there. If we could add some size, that would be a wish."
Who's hot: Vokoun earned NHL third star honors for January for his superb efforts in keeping the Panthers in games despite their offensive woes. He went 3-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage for the Czech Republic in Vancouver. … Nik Antropov entered the break on a four-game points streak for the Thrashers, recording two goals and six assists.
Injury report: Florida forward Nathan Horton is skating again and could make his return from a broken tibia. Forward Rostislav Olesz is day-to-day with a broken finger. … Atlanta defenseman Christoph Schubert and Boris Valabik are on injured reserve with knee injuries. Valabik had surgery and is out for the season.
Stat pack: The Panthers will be looking to snap a seven-game losing streak, the longest for the franchise since a 12-game skid from Oct. 27-Nov. 23, 2005. … Evander Kane of the Thrashers has 14 goals, fifth among NHL rookies, including three in his last four games.
Puck drop: Leopold was acquired from Calgary in the offseason in the Jay Bouwmeester deal. He was due to become a free agent following the season and Florida elected not to risk losing him for nothing. Despite losing a key figure on their blue line, Weiss said the Panthers have remained focused and think they can still make the playoffs.
"We've got to worry about the 20, 21 guys that are in this room, go out, play good hockey and get some wins. And that's it," he told the Sun-Sentinel. "We lost Leo, but we have to pick ourselves up, have good games the next two days and put some points on the board."