Less than three weeks ago, the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers were tied atop the Southeast Division. When they meet Wednesday at Philips Arena, they'll be separated by two other teams and eight points.
The surging Hurricanes look to extend their division lead, while the fourth-place Thrashers hope to avoid an eighth straight loss as the clubs meet for the sixth time this season.
|The Carolina Hurricanes are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and look to extend their Southeast Division lead when they face off against the Atlanta Thrashers tonight. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
On Feb. 15, Atlanta won its third in a row to pull even with Carolina at 29-27-4. The Thrashers (29-31-7) haven't won since, going 0-4-3 in their last seven, with all of the non-regulation losses coming in the last three games.
Carolina, meanwhile, has seized a three-point lead over second-place Washington by going 5-2-1 since Feb. 15 and 7-2-1 in its last 10. The Hurricanes (34-29-5) have won four of their last five, with major contributions coming from a number of their newest additions.
Four of their goals in Saturday's 5-1 win over Tampa Bay were scored by players who weren't with the team before 2008. Sergei Samsonov, claimed off waivers from Chicago on Jan. 8, had two goals and an assist to give him 11 goals and 10 assists in 24 games with Carolina.
Tuomo Ruutu scored his first goal since coming over from the Blackhawks in a Feb. 26 trade, while Joe Corvo recorded his second goal after being acquired from Ottawa on Feb. 11. Patrick Eaves, who came with Corvo in the four-player deal, had an assist.
"With the system we play, it's pretty easy for guys to come in and be comfortable," Carolina's Eric Staal said. "You know you're going to have to skate, and move your feet, and attack, attack, attack."
|The struggling Thrashers hope to avoid an eighth-straight loss. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Carolina's newfound depth allowed it to overcome the absence of two of its three 50-point scorers. Ray Whitney remains day-to-day with a groin injury, and Rod Brind'Amour is out for the season after knee surgery.
The Hurricanes are coming off a six-game homestand and have played just one road game in their last nine, but they haven't lost at Atlanta this season, winning two games there by a combined 9-6. They beat the Thrashers 5-3 at Raleigh on Feb. 21, improving them to 3-1-1 in the season series.
That game was the second loss in Atlanta's seven-game skid, and the Thrashers haven't won since trading second-leading scorer Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh at last week's trade deadline. They've fallen to 14th place in the conference and all but out of playoff contention.
Atlanta has just 14 goals during the slide, with leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk getting held without a point in four of the seven games. Kovalchuk has just eight points in his last 17 games, during which the Thrashers have gone 4-9-4, after he recorded 63 points in his first 47 contests.
The Thrashers have at least emerged from their last three games with a point. On Sunday, the Penguins scored less than a minute into the game and went on to win 3-2 in a shootout - the same result as Atlanta's loss to Boston on Saturday.
The Thrashers return home having played seven of their previous eight games on the road. They are 2-0-1 in their last three at Philips Arena.