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'Canes and Thrashers battle for 8th in East

by Tal Pinchevsky /
THRASHERS (24-21-9) at HURRICANES (25-21-6)

TV -- FS-South (HD), FS-Carolina (HD)

Last 10 --
Atlanta 2-5-3; Carolina 4-6-0

Season series -- This is the third meeting this season between the Southeast-Division rivals. In their last meeting on Jan. 9, Erik Cole scored the overtime winner, capping a 4-3 Hurricanes win in which Tuomo Ruutu contributed a goal and an assist. Their only other meeting was a 3-2 shootout win for Carolina on Dec. 16.

Big story -- Considering they're both battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, this could be the biggest game so far this season for the Canes and Thrashers. Atlanta currently occupies the eighth spot in the Conference, holding a one-point lead over Carolina -- but the 'Canes have played two fewer games. Neither team has been hot of late -- Carolina has missed two chances to pass Atlanta -- the Thrashers have wilted since closing out November with six straight wins and are 4-6-3 in the new year.

Team Scope:

Thrashers -- After a 20-15-6 record in the first half, the Thrashers won their first two games of 2011 and looked poised for a possible playoff run. But they've lost nine of their last 11 games, a downturn that has coincided with Dustin Byfuglien's slump. After setting a new franchise record for goals by a defenseman in December, the All-Star has gone 12 games without a point.

On Thursday, the Thrashers failed to hold a 2-1 lead at home, allowing three straight Flames goals [including an empty-netter] in a 4-2 loss. Despite blowing a lead at home, the Atlanta effort was markedly improved.

"Earlier in the year we were winning those games and finding a way to get that key turnover," coach Craig Ramsay said. "But the effort was there. It was a much better effort."

Hurricanes -- Since winning three of four heading into the All-Star break, the Hurricanes are showing signs of a hangover after hosting the midseason festivities. Carolina has lost both of its games since returning from the break, including a 3-0 loss in Toronto on Thursday that gave Leafs' goaltender James Reimer his first NHL shutout.

Despite a strong 38-save performance by All-Star goaltender Cam Ward, the Hurricanes managed very little offensively against the Leafs. The game was best-personified by a third-period play in which Ward made a miraculous lunging save on Tim Brent before Kris Versteeg slipped through the defense and beat Ward for the game-clinching goal moments later.

"I didn't think we generated nearly as much as we like to offensively," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "We struggled in that department."

Who's hot -- Evander Kane had two assists against Calgary and now has 3 points in his last three games. Nik Antropov is riding a three-game point streak and has 7 points in his last eight games. … Carolina's Erik Cole has 5 points in his last four games, while the shutout in Toronto halted teammate Joe Corvo's six-game point streak, in which he had seven points.

Injury report -- Atlanta will likely be without defenseman Freddy Meyer, who is dealing with an upper-body injury after collapsing during the game against Calgary. Tobias Enstrom (finger) and Jim Slater (concussion) are on IR, but goalie Chris Mason (knee) was reactivated Friday and will be available. … Carolina's only injury is Jussi Jokinen, who suffered a lower-body injury just two weeks after being named the League's first star of the week.

Stat pack -- Ward has won three straight against Atlanta and hasn't lost at home to the Thrashers since Jan. 16, 2010.

Puck drop -- With another Canes-Thrashers matchup coming on Feb 13, the remaining four division matchups between these two teams should prove pivotal in the Eastern playoff picture. The teams have split their season series the past two campaigns and will play a potential make-or-break game on April 8 in Atlanta.

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