GAME: Carolina Hurricanes (34-11-4) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-21-6).
TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.
The Atlanta Thrashers have already shaken a few slumps this season. But as the season wears on, they know they can't allow their latest one to extend much longer.
The Thrashers will try to snap a three-game losing streak as they host the NHL-leading Carolina Hurricanes in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Atlanta lost 3-2 to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday for their first three-game slide since losing five in a row Nov. 29-Dec. 6. The Thrashers, who have had three previous losing streaks of three or more games this season, rebounded from their December slump with a 13-2-3 run that catapulted them into contention for their first-ever playoff spot.
Atlanta still holds the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, but only by one point over ninth-place Toronto and two over 10th-place Montreal.
"When you look at the standings, it's all jumbled up," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "There's still plenty of games. But you don't want to give up games that could come back to haunt you at the end of the year."
Scott Mellanby and Marc Savard scored Tuesday for the Thrashers, who have lost back-to-back games at home and will match a season-high for consecutive home losses with a defeat Thursday.
"Oh, it's huge," goalie Kari Lehtonen, who had 29 saves, said of the upcoming game. "Every game is important right now. We want to get points, if we want to play something other than golf in April."
Peter Bondra returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing 22 games with a groin injury. He played slightly more than 15 minutes and was held without a shot. The Thrashers hope center Bobby Holik, who is out with a broken foot, can begin skating next week.
The Hurricanes have won 11 of their last 12, including Wednesday's 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers. Erik Cole and Ray Whitney scored in the shootout, and captain Rod Brind'Amour added two power-play goals, including the game-tying marker with 1:04 left in regulation.
Carolina improved to 4-1 in shootouts.
"We're confident in our goaltender there and we've got a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net," Brind'Amour said.
Defenseman Glen Wesley returned after missing 10 games with a sprained knee.
STANDINGS: Hurricanes - 72 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Thrashers - 52 points, 3rd place, 20 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Eric Staal, 31 goals and 65 points; Staal and Cory Stillman, 34 assists; Mike Commodore, 86 PIM. Thrashers - Ilya Kovalchuk, 35 goals and 68 points; Marc Savard, 43 assists; Andy Sutton, 84 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 19.3 percent (63 for 326), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (219 for 267), 21st. Thrashers - Power play: 20.3 percent (70 for 345), 4th. Penalty killing: 79.1 percent (254 for 321), 28th.
GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (24-8-2, 3 SO, 2.76 GAA); Cam Ward (10-3-2, 3.58). Thrashers - Lehtonen (6-4-0, 1, 2.57); Mike Dunham (4-4-1, 1, 2.79).
SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 2-1-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 4; Hurricanes, 4-3. At Raleigh, N.C., Stillman had two goals and two assists helping the Hurricanes rally from a two-goal deficit. Kovalchuk had two power-play goals for the Thrashers, who won the first two meetings for the season by a combined score of 14-2.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hurricanes - 12-7-3 on the road; Thrashers - 13-9-4 at home.