THRASHERS (20-14-6) at DEVILS (9-25-2)
TV -- FS-South (HD), MSG (HD)
Last 10 -- Atlanta 4-3-3; New Jersey 1-9-0
Season series -- Second of four meetings this season. Eric Boulton recorded his first career hat trick as the Thrashers routed the Devils 7-1 in Atlanta on Dec. 18.
Big story -- A pair of teams having much different seasons than they're generally accustomed to close out 2010 at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. The Thrashers have only made the playoffs once since entering the NHL in 1999, but not only are they currently in the top eight, they're challenging the Capitals and Lightning for the Southeast Division title. The Devils, meanwhile, have missed the playoffs just once in the past 20 years, but nothing short of a miracle second half will save them, as they sit last in the overall League standings.
Thrashers --After stumbling its way to four straight defeats, Atlanta picked up a critical 3-2 shootout win over Boston on Thursday, paying back the Bruins for a 4-1 loss at Boston one week earlier. Tobias Enstrom, who sometimes gets overlooked on the blue line now that Dustin Byfuglien is on the scene, proved he's a star in his own right with a pair of power-play goals in regulation. Tim Stapleton and Bryan Little connected in the penalty-shot tiebreaker, backing a stellar effort from Ondrej Pavelec (42 saves).
"Everybody knows Buff shoots the puck now, so maybe it's time for me to start shooting a little bit," Enstrom said. "It's always fun to help the team win."
Devils -- A lot went right for New Jersey against the rival New York Rangers on Wednesday. The Devils kept Henrik Lundqvist busy, firing 44 shots on net. Martin Brodeur played one of his better games in recent memory, stopping 23 of 25 pucks sent his way. But as the story has been for much of this season, the Devils couldn't put enough pucks in the net to win. Travis Zajac got them on the board early, but they still fell 3-1 for their sixth consecutive defeat and third in a row since Jacques Lemaire returned as coach.
"We started doing a lot more things that Jacques has been telling us tonight and it paid off," center Jason Arnott said. "If we keep playing like that, we're going to win hockey games."
Who's hot -- Byfuglien has 3 goals and 3 assists in his last six games for the Thrashers. … Zajac has been scoring at almost a point-per-game clip over his last 11, with 3 goals and 7 assists.
Injury report -- Atlanta placed forward Nik Antropov (hip) on injured reserve Thursday, while forward Evander Kane (right arm) missed the game against Boston and is day-to-day. … New Jersey has forwards Zach Parise (knee) and Jacob Josefson (hand) and defensemen Bryce Salvador (concussion), Mark Fraser (hand) and Matt Taormina (ankle) on injured reserve.
Stat pack -- Enstrom has 7 goals this season, already a career high. … The Devils have registered 40 or more shots in three games this season and lost each time.
Puck drop -- New Jersey has only one win during the month of December, a 3-0 victory over Phoenix on the 15th. This is the finale of a four-game homestand that has produced little more than frustration so far, although the players are doing their best to persevere.
"It's frustrating not winning again, but I guess we played pretty good," Zajac said after the latest defeat. "We put up almost 50 shots. We have to take some kind of positive out of this."