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Florida Panthers vs. Atlanta Thrashers @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Florida Panthers (27-29-14-3) at Atlanta Thrashers (29-34-7-4).

TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

Roberto Luongo is doing everything he can to get the Florida Panthers into the playoffs.

Luongo should be in net again as the Panthers take on the Atlanta Thrashers with a chance to pull closer to the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

Luongo stopped 50 shots, including 26 in the first period, as the Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit for a critical 6-4 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Florida moved within seven points of the Islanders for eighth place, and both clubs have eight games remaining. New York hosts Minnesota on Friday.

While the Panthers still face a tough task in catching the Isles despite Wednesday's win, Luongo's brilliance gives them a chance. The former Islander leads the NHL with a .934 save percentage, and has emerged as his team's leader.

"Nobody was satisfied with the first period," Luongo said. "I was just trying to keep it close."

Nathan Horton, Olli Jokinen, Matt Cullen, Stephen Weiss, Mikael Samuelsson and Donald Audette scored for Florida, which was outshot 28-7 in the first period and 54-24 overall.

"They came out hard on us there," Panthers coach John Torchetti said. "They smelled blood and they went for it. Louie was unbelievable. It could have been 5-0 after the first period."

The win was the third straight for the Panthers, who after Friday's game will play six of their final eight games at home. Florida is 15-12-6-2 at the Office Depot Center, and just 12-17-8-1 on the road.

Florida will look to earn another crucial two points against Atlanta, which has beaten the Panthers three straight times. The Thrashers, two points behind Florida, had a two-game winning streak snapped Wednesday as they blew a late two-goal lead in losing 4-3 to Buffalo in overtime.

NHL goal leader Ilya Kovalchuk tied a career high with his 38th of the season, and Andy Sutton tied a career best with two goals for the Thrashers in the fight-marred game.

These teams, who conclude their season series March 27 in Florida, will both be missing key forwards.

Audette was suspended two games by the NHL on Thursday for kicking the Islanders' Sven Butenschon a day earlier. Atlanta's Ronald Petrovicky got a one-game suspension for kneeing Buffalo's J.P. Dumont.

STANDINGS (through March 17): Panthers - 71 points, 2nd place, 24 PB, Southeast Division. Thrashers - 69 points, 3rd place, 26 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 23 goals, 24 assists and 47 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 147 PIM. Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 38 goals, 40 assists and 78 points; Francis Lessard, 169 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 17): Panthers - Power play: 16.4 percent (44 for 269), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.0 percent (282 for 328), 2nd. Thrashers - Power play: 14.9 percent (55 for 369), 24th. Penalty killing: 85.7 percent (299 for 349), 4th.

GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (24-28-13, 7 SO, 2.32 GAA); Steve Shields (3-4-1, 3.42). Thrashers - Pasi Nurminen (25-27-6, 3, 2.75); Kari Lehtonen (no appearances).

SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 6; Thrashers, 4-3, OT. At Sunrise, Fla., Ben Simon's first NHL goal tied it in the third period and Vyacheslav Kozlov scored 2:57 into overtime to lift the Thrashers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 12-17-8-1 on the road; Thrashers - 16-15-4-2 at home.

Associated Press
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