THRASHERS (27-28-11) AT HURRICANES (31-2-69)
TV -- FS-South (HD), FS-Carolinas (HD)
-- Atlanta 3-6-1; Carolina 5-4-1
-- Carolina has won each of the first four meetings, but three have needed extra time. Erik Cole has won two of them in overtime and Cam Ward
made 45 saves before helping the Hurricanes to a shootout victory.
-- The Hurricanes will try to get out of neutral and back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference while the Thrashers need a win to jump-start a final push to get back into contention.
-- Atlanta is looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since the first two games of 2011 (Jan. 2 and Jan. 5). The Thrashers have fallen to 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings since then by losing 18 of 23 games, but they are still only seven points back of eighth place.
Atlanta beat Florida 4-3 in overtime on Saturday thanks to a pair of goals from captain Andrew Ladd and two from newcomer Blake Wheeler. The Thrashers had just seven goals in their previous five contests, but put four past one of the top goaltenders in the League in Tomas Vokoun.
One of Atlanta's top prospects, 2009 second-round pick Carl Klingberg, will join the team's AHL affiliate in Chicago soon for the remainder of the season. Klingberg split time between Frolunda and Timra in the Swedish Elite League. He could be another key young player for Atlanta in the near future.
-- Carolina had won three of four before heading to Chicago in the second half of a back-to-back and getting blitzed by the defending champs 5-2 on Friday night. Ward did not play as coach Paul Maurice gave him a rest after 24 consecutive starts, but expect to see his name on the lineup card a lot in the final 16 games - Maurice even told reporters the plan is for him to start all 16 if necessary.
The Hurricanes had to spend four days sitting and watching the other playoff contenders play. They got some help on Tuesday when eighth-place Buffalo and red-hot New Jersey lost in regulation, and 10th-place Toronto got just one point for an overtime loss on Long Island. The Hurricanes have games against Buffalo and Toronto this month, but also two each against Tampa Bay and Washington.
-- Ladd has nine goals in 11 games for the Thrashers. Atlanta has had eight double-digit scorers this season but Ladd is the only one to reach 20 goals. … Cole has 6 points in his last six games, while linemate Eric Staal
has a point in four straight contests. Cory Stillman has four points in his first five games back after a trade from Florida.
-- Atlanta defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is out with a lower-body injury - he had three assists against the Panthers. Jim Slater is also out with a concussion and Patrice Cormier is questionable with an upper-body injury. .. The Hurricanes are as healthy as a team can be five months into an NHL season.
-- The Thrashers could have the NHL leader in goals by a defenseman and assists by a defenseman - but it won't be the same guy. Byfuglien had a three-goal lead on Minnesota's Brent Burns for the top spot in goals, while Tobias Enstrom is third in the League among rearguards with 40 assists. He's four back of Keith Yandle. Even more of an oddity - it is possible that Byfuglien scores the most goals and Enstrom collects the most assists but someone else (probably Yandle or Nicklas Lidstrom) ends up having the most points among defensemen.
Puck drop -- The 'Canes have 16 game remaining, but still face six sets of back-to-backs, including Friday at Washington and Saturday at home against Columbus. Atlanta has just four sets of back-to-backs -- but plays 10 of its last 16 away from home.