Season series -- Third of four meetings this season. The first two were split, with the visiting team prevailing in each case. The last meeting at Philips Arena on Jan. 22 was significant for the Rangers in that they pulled out a 3-2 shootout win despite a 2-1 deficit and the loss of Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust to injury during the game. It was also a night where Mats Zuccarello added to his growing legend with the lone shootout goal.
Big story -- Just look at the standings. The Thrashers remain at the doorstep of playoff qualification despite their recent four-game slide, while the Rangers' seventh seed has become a bit more tenuous thanks to their own five-game losing streak. Only four points separate the Blueshirts from the ninth-place Thrashers, who will be playing their next two games against the teams directly in front of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Rangers -- It certainly doesn't look like a team that's 0-4-1 in its last five games. Despite the dip in the standings, the Rangers remain unbowed, feeling that the effort they've been putting in will result a turnaround soon enough.
"It's the most positive five-game losing streak I think I've been a part of," Ryan Callahan told the New York Post after Wednesday's practice.
"I think we've done some really good things in the games we've lost," coach John Tortorella told the Post. "You can keep on going back to that, but you have to win a game. They know where we're at. They know what's at stake. I trust them that they know how to get out of this."
Thrashers -- Hopes are high in Atlanta as well, even though the Thrashers have just five wins in their last 21 games. They have been playing better in their last three games, picking up a pair of power-play goals in Monday's loss in Toronto, for example. Coach Craig Ramsay remains optimistic.
"I think we can make the playoffs," Ramsay said Wednesday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I really do. That 'Expect to Win' thing is true. We went in to the last couple of games and we didn't win, but we played to win. We didn't play to tie. We didn't play to stay close. While we gave up some goals late that perhaps we didn’t early or we might not in the future because we are trying to win the game. We don't want to play close and hope we win. We are going out there expecting to win. We are going out there playing to win."
He had a sit-down meeting with Dustin Byfuglien prior to Monday's game, focusing primarily on Byfuglien's defensive play, which has suffered as he tried to break a 14-game scoring drought. Byfuglien did score on Monday, but had a critical turnover late in the game which resulted in the goal that put the Leafs ahead for good.
Who's hot --Marian Gaborik has 10 points in his last nine games, but he's scored only 1 goal in his last eight since his four-goal performance Jan. 19 against the Maple Leafs. Brandon Dubinsky scored his 18th goal of the year Monday in Detroit, giving him 40 points for the fourth consecutive season. … The Thrashers scored a power-play goal Monday on their first opportunity, ending an 0-for-16 drought.
Injury report -- Rangers captain Chris Drury will have surgery on his sore left knee, which will keep him out up to six weeks. Forward Ruslan Fedotenko is expected to be fully recovered from a sprained shoulder and an appendectomy by the end of the month. … Thrashers All-Star defenseman Tobias Enstrom (broken finger) went through a full-contact practice on Thursday. He could be available either Friday or Sunday against the Hurricanes. Freddy Modin (upper body) is also questionable.
Stat pack -- Tortorella is withholding his decision on goaltending until Friday morning, which is making Henrik Lundqvist a little itchy. He hasn't played since being pulled after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the Rangers' 3-2 loss to the Devils last Thursday. He's 1-3-1 with a 3.39 goals-against average his last five starts but was 13-6-2 with a 1.76 GAA in 21 prior appearances and matches Tim Thomas' NHL-leading seven shutouts. The power play hasn't been generating much, going 3-for-31 of late, which led Tortorella to experiment with Wojtek Wolski at the point in practice.
Puck drop -- "It's extremely similar. We were in the same position, eight or nine games over .500 in December and now we are coming on to February at .500 or a couple over. The games are getting harder. We are playing some high-tempo games. We are in close games late and we are the team that had the miscues go against us. It’s happened three games in a row. … We've given up some big chances in the third period and in tie games, you can't do it." -- Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey in the Journal-Constitution on how this season has been following the same pattern as last.