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Needing every point they can get to secure a playoff spot, the Carolina Hurricanes look to take advantage of a matchup with the league's worst team as they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

The defending Stanley Cup champions are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, leading both the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs by one point and trailing seventh-place Montreal by one. Carolina (30-25-7) is in third place in the Southeast Division, four points behind co-leaders Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

The Hurricanes gave up three goals in the third period of Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Thrashers, losing for the first time in 22 games when leading after two periods.

"The whole game was frustrating," coach Peter Laviolette told Carolina's official Web site. "It's a big game. We're playing for a stake in the postseason. Our power play could have executed better and we turned the puck over a few times and it cost us. That's the ball game."

Rod Brind'Amour scored the lone goal for Carolina, which had won four of its previous six games. Ray Whitney assisted, increasing his team-leading point total to 70. Whitney, who has 10 goals and 16 assists in his last 19 games, is just six points shy of the career high he set in 2002-03, while with Columbus.

"I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but every game from now on is a battle and we've got to be winning these games, especially when we have the lead in the third period," left wing Andrew Ladd told the Hurricanes' Web site. "We seemed to have control of the game. It's disappointing."

Left wing Erik Cole, who has 25 goals and 26 assists in 57 games, was a late scratch from the game -- the third time he's sat out in the last four contests. According to Carolina's Web site, Cole is expected to miss three to four weeks with a torn muscle near his hip.

"This was totally unexpected," Laviolette told the site of Cole's absence on Tuesday. "Something gave in warm-ups when he was stretching."

The Flyers (16-36-8) have dropped three of their last four, including Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the NHL-leading Buffalo Sabres. Simon Gagne had two goals and Mike Richards added three assists for Philadelphia, which with 40 points this season is the league's only team with fewer than 50.

Gagne, who leads Philadelphia with 33 goals and 51 points, has nine goals and four assists in his last seven games.

"We felt at times we were the better team," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "It was an opportunity for us."

Goalie Robert Esche was pulled early in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first appearance since leaving seven minutes into a Feb. 3 start against Atlanta due to a stiff neck. Antero Niittymaki stopped six of eight shots the rest of the way on Tuesday.

Philadelphia has won three of its last four visits to Carolina -- including a 5-2 victory on Dec. 31 -- while scoring at least four goals in each of those contests.

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