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Hurricanes control destiny as they face Thrashers

by Brian Hunter

HURRICANES (39-30-11) at THRASHERS (34-34-12)


Last 10:
Carolina 7-2-1; Atlanta 5-5-0

Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Southeast Division rivals. The Hurricanes are 4-0-1 against the Thrashers this season, but the only game that's been decided in regulation was their 3-2 win on Feb. 13, the last time the teams faced each other in Atlanta. Erik Cole had the decisive goal that night, and he also has a pair of overtime winners among his 4 goals in the series. Tim Stapleton scored in OT to give the Thrashers a 3-2 victory in the most recent matchup, March 9 in Carolina.

Big story: The Hurricanes are back in control of their playoff destiny, thanks to their opponent on Friday. The Thrashers shut out the Rangers 3-0 on Thursday, keeping Carolina just two points out of eighth. The Hurricanes have two games left and if they win them both they'll claim the No. 8 seed regardless of what the Rangers do in their last regular-season game against the Devils on Saturday afternoon. In fact, if Carolina wins Friday it could be in the playoffs before even taking the ice Saturday night, should New Jersey defeat New York in regulation.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: The effort Carolina put forth at home Wednesday against Detroit suggests that the Hurricanes will be a worthy playoff contender if they make it there. Cam Ward stopped all 42 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory, the most saves he's ever had in a shutout. Young defenseman Derek Joslin's power-play goal opened the scoring early in the second, and Carolina tacked on thanks to the 30th goal of Jeff Skinner's brilliant rookie season and Cole's 25th this season.

"It's nice to get rewarded with a shutout, but I can't take the full credit," Ward said. "I thought our guys competed once again and we refused to give up. To be able to come and compete against a very difficult team in Detroit speaks a lot about character and a complete team effort."

Thrashers: In one of the ironies of late-season hockey, Atlanta could put New York right back in the driver's seat if it can play spoiler for a second consecutive night. The Rangers will certainly be rooting for the same Thrashers team to show up at Philips Arena on Friday, as Rob Schremp and Andrew Ladd scored 15 seconds apart in the middle period and Ondrej Pavelec stopped all 29 shots he faced.

"We had contributions from everybody," coach Craig Ramsay said. "We had the kind of game we talked about and great goaltending. They really went after us early. They came out hard. We weathered the storm and our goalie was good and gave us that chance and we fought back."

Who's hot: Staal has 2 goals and 5 assists during a four-game points streak for the Hurricanes. Skinner has 4 goals in his last five games. Ward is on a 4-0-1 run and hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of those starts. … Blake Wheeler has 2 goals and 1 assist in the last two games for the Thrashers.

Injury report: Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Freddy Meyer (head) and forwards Radek Dvorak (upper body), Patrice Cormier (upper body) and Jim Slater (concussion) are also sidelined.

Stat pack: Ward, the Conn Smythe winner as a rookie in 2006, is making a late push for Vezina Trophy consideration. Ward leads the League in appearances (72),  minutes (4,199), shots faced (2,323) and saves (2,144), is tied for third with 36 wins and ranks sixth with a .923 save percentage.

Puck drop: Skinner became the eighth 18-year-old in NHL history to score 30 goals in a season and is the seventh-youngest to reach the milestone. The only other rookie to score 30 for the franchise was Sylvain Turgeon in 1983-84 for Hartford.

"He's gotten better," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "He's got 30 goals, but with his overall play he's seemed to pick up his game. That line (with Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen) offensively at times has been our best line, and he just seems to relish more pressure."

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