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Panthers-Thrashers Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Florida Panthers (23-29-8) at Atlanta Thrashers (28-27-6).

TIME: Monday, 7 p.m. EST.

With the first playoff berth in franchise history a possibility, every game is key for the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Thrashers, winners of four of their last five games, try to keep their postseason hopes in sight as they host the struggling Florida Panthers.

Atlanta begins the night four points behind Montreal for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, although the Canadiens have two games in hand.

While Atlanta's point total has increased in each of its five years in the league, it has never made the playoffs or finished with a winning record.

Atlanta has 16 wins all-time against Florida, its most victories against any opponent.

The Thrashers defeated the Capitals 3-2 Saturday night on Marian Hossa's goal 1:49 into overtime. Hossa scored against Washington's Olaf Kolzig on his eighth shot of the contest.

"It took one hour to get into the net," Hossa said. "But it did."

Ilya Kovalchuk's 39th goal gave the Thrashers a 2-1 lead at 7:08 of the third period, but Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin tied it with 25.2 seconds remaining in regulation.

"It's too bad that we gave up that goal at the end, but that's going to happen," said Atlanta coach Bob Hartley. "We found a way to come back and win it, which is a sign of a team that is desperate, but we're still on a mission."

Marc Savard had three assists in the win. He has four goals in six assists in five games against Florida this season.

Florida has missed the playoff each of the last four seasons, and a postseason berth seems unlikely this year. The Panthers trail the Thrashers by eight points and Montreal by 12 and with the trade deadline looming Thursday, Florida needs to decide what to do with high-priced center Olli Jokinen.

The Panthers lost 5-2 Friday night to the Eastern Conference-leading Carolina Hurricanes. The defeat was the third in four games for the Panthers and dropped them to 0-4-1 on the season against Carolina.

"We came in here for two points, and we got nothing," said center Serge Payer, who scored one of Florida's two goals. "Right now, we can't afford to be losing the two points. We've got 22 games left, and that's 44 points. Nobody here doesn't believe we can't get them all."

Chris Gratton had the other Florida score. He had three goals and two assists in two February meetings with the Thrashers.

After facing Atlanta, the Panthers play their next five games and eight of their next nine at home.

STANDINGS: Panthers - 54 points, 4th place, 34 PB, Southeast Division. Thrashers - 62 points, 3rd place, 26 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 27 goals, 35 assists and 62 points; Gratton, 92 PIM. Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 39 goals; Savard, 53 assists; Kovalchuk and Savard, 77 points; Andy Sutton, 106 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 5): Panthers - Power play: 15.4 percent (48 for 312), 26th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.4 percent (319 for 387), 15th. Thrashers - Power play: 19.7 percent (81 for 411), 5th. Penalty killing: 79.1 percent (302 for 382), 25th.

GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Roberto Luongo (23-25-8, 4 SO, 2.96 GAA); Jamie McLennan (0-4-0, 0, 3.09). Thrashers - Kari Lehtonen (11-10-0, 1, 2.78); Mike Dunham (4-4-1, 1, 2.79).

SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 3-2.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 4; Thrashers, 6-4. At Atlanta, Peter Bondra scored twice and Savard had a goal and two assists to help the Thrashers snap a seven-game losing streak. Gratton had a goal and an assist for Florida.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 8-21-4 on the road; Thrashers - 15-11-4 at home.

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