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Hurricanes try to draw closer to Thrashers

by Tal Pinchevsky
THRASHERS (22-16-6) at HURRICANES (19-15-6)


Last 10 --
Atlanta 4-5-1; Carolina 5-3-2

Season series --
This is the second of six games this season between these Southeast Division rivals. In their previous meeting on Dec. 16, Carolina trailed 2-0 heading into the third period. But goals from Brandon Sutter and Eric Staal forced overtime before Sergei Samsonov scored in the shootout for a 3-2 victory. While the Canes' scorers propelled the comeback, goaltender Cam Ward paced the victory with 45 saves.

Big story --
This game could potentially change the tone of the Southeast Division race. The Hurricanes are just six points behind the Thrashers and have played four fewer games. If both teams’ recent play is any indication, it may not be long before the Canes leapfrog the Thrashers in the standings.

Team scope:

Thrashers --
After consecutive wins in Montreal and Florida, Atlanta appeared to be turning a corner after losing five of six games. But a 9-3 home dismantling at the hands of the last-place Maple Leafs showed that not all was right in Atlanta.

Against Toronto, the Thrashers raced out to an early lead on Tobias Enstrom’s goal 2:36 into the game. The Leafs then answered with nine consecutive goals, including five on the power play, chasing goaltender Ondrej Pavelec from the game. The .792 save percentage Pavelec posted was easily his worst in any game this season.

"I hope they use it as a wakeup call," coach Craig Ramsay said. "We're pretty good when we compete. We cannot play when we feel like it. We must go in there and try to play 60 minutes a game."

Hurricanes --
Carolina is showing signs that a late-season playoff run could be in its future. The resurgent Hurricanes have points in each of their last six games, going 4-0-2 in that span. On Friday against the Panthers, Carolina spotted Florida an early 2-0 lead, but two goals each from Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole led the Canes to a 5-3 win.

For the cardiac Canes, it was the third straight game in which they had come back from a deficit. In the previous two comebacks, they sent the game to overtime before losing in extra time.
"We'd like to get off to a better start," Skinner said. "I think we play better when we're a bit angry. After those first two goals we got a little bit angry, and that sparked us to play a better game."

Who's hot --
Enstrom is riding a three-game points streak and has 14 points in his last 11 games. Andrew Ladd has 4 points in his current three-game point streak. … Skinner has 5 goals in his last six games and leads all rookies with 31 points. Canes captain Staal has a four-game points streak and 33 points in his last 29 games.

Injury report --
Forward Evander Kane is questionable for the Thrashers with a lower-body injury while Jim Slater was placed on IR this week with a concussion. Forward Ben Eager is serving a four-game suspension after receiving a match penalty for punching Colby Armstrong. … Carolina forwards Jussi Jokinen and Ryan Carter and defenseman Joni Pitkanen are questionable against Atlanta while Jiri Tlusty (arm) is on IR.

Stat pack --
The remaining games between these two teams could dictate their playoff fortunes. Atlanta and Carolina will play each other four more times after Feb. 1, including what could be a pivotal matchup in Atlanta on April 8. The teams have split their season series 3-3 each of the last two seasons.

Puck drop --
Staal has 7 goals and 15 points in his last 13 games against the Thrashers. He also was MVP of the 2008 All-Star Game, which was played in Atlanta.

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