A Southeast Division title could be the only way into the playoffs for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Atlanta Thrashers, meanwhile, have been reduced to the role of spoiler.
The Hurricanes look to pad their division lead and extend the Thrashers' recent woes when the teams meet Wednesday night at Philips Arena.
Carolina (39-30-5) has put together a 12-3-1 run since Feb. 12, winning six of its last seven games to open a three-point lead on Washington in the Southeast.
|The Carolina Hurricanes are 12-3-1 since Feb. 12 and currently sit in first place in the Southeast Division, with a three point lead over the second-place Capitals. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
With eight games remaining against division opponents, there is little room for error for the Hurricanes, who seek to return to the playoffs after missing out last season - one year after winning the Stanley Cup.
"We know what our division is looking like, we know every team and where they stand," Tim Gleason told the Hurricanes' official Web site. "We'll have an opportunity to get two points every single night here, and I've said it all along, consistency, if we stick with that we're going to be OK."
The Hurricanes made sure to get both points in a 5-1 home victory over Ottawa on Sunday. Defenseman Joe Corvo notched his first NHL hat trick against his former team, while Eric Staal contributed three assists as Carolina bounced back from Friday's 7-1 defeat at Buffalo.
"It was a whupping," said Corvo, who has five goals and five assists in his last seven games. "It was real important to put that one out of our minds."
Cam Ward, who was pulled after surrendering four goals on seven shots Friday, made 16 saves against Ottawa. He is 9-2-0 with a 2.43 goals-against average and one shutout while starting each of the Hurricanes' last 11 games.
Ward's strong play has included two wins over the Thrashers (31-36-8), who have dropped four of six meetings in 2007-08. He is 3-1-1 with a 3.17 GAA in five games against Atlanta this season.
Carolina seeks its first four-game win streak over the Thrashers since Nov. 29, 2005-Jan. 28, 2006. The Hurricanes have won three straight and six of the last seven in Atlanta.
Ward is 6-1-0 with a 3.04 GAA in seven career games at Philips Arena. He made 21 saves in a 6-3 victory there on March 5 in the teams' most recent meeting.
Staal had two goals and an assist in that win, giving him four goals and five assists during a four-game point streak versus the Thrashers. Staal - the Hurricanes' leader with 34 goals and 73 points - has 10 goals and 28 points in 28 career meetings.
Atlanta plays its next two at home after completing an 0-3-0 road trip Tuesday with a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia. Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 50th goal, contributed an assist and nearly sent the game into overtime.
"Most of the time I score those kind of goals," said Kovalchuk, who has eight goals and four assists in his last eight games.
The Thrashers, losers of five of six, are just 2-9-4 since winning three in a row from Feb. 9-15.
Kovalchuk has three goals and 11 points in six games against Carolina this season, and 25 goals and 46 points in 36 all-time meetings.