A pair of late-season acquisitions may have given the Atlanta Thrashers the spark they need to reach the playoffs for the first time.
Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik look to help the Thrashers extend the longest home winning streak in franchise history when they host reigning MVP Joe Thornton and the surging San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
The Thrashers (39-25-10) won their seventh straight at Philips Arena on Sunday, beating Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo 4-3 in overtime. The previous club record for consecutive home victories was six, set from March 20-April 15 of last season.
The Thrashers, now in their eighth season, are in first place in the Southeast Division, four points ahead of second-place Tampa Bay.
Tkachuk, acquired on Feb. 25 in a trade with St. Louis, scored the game-winner on the power play with 38 seconds left in the extra session, giving him six goals in 10 games with the Thrashers. Atlanta is 8-2-0 since picking up Tkachuk.
"We found a way to win, and that is what you need," said Tkachuk, who is four goals shy of his 10th 30-goal season. "Obviously, our power plays are clicking right now. This is what wins and loses hockey games."
The Thrashers recorded three power-play goals against the Sabres.
Two days earlier, Zhitnik, acquired Feb. 24 from Philadelphia, scored on the power play 2:18 into overtime for a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers. The veteran defenseman has two goals and 10 assists in 10 games with the Thrashers and has become part of a penalty-killing unit that has allowed just five man-advantage goals in 45 chances over the last 10 games.
"I haven't been playing in the NHL that long, but you hear about big deals that can turn your season into something special," said goalie Kari Lehtonen, who improved to 32-21-8 with a 2.81 goals-against average. "With Tkachuk and Zhitnik, we got two great pickups that have made a big difference for everything we're trying to do."
Tkachuk left Wednesday's practice with flu-like symptoms, but said he should be available for this game.
The Sharks (45-25-4) are coming off a 4-1 win over Chicago on Wednesday night for their fifth win in six games. Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek each had two goals for San Jose, which has recorded a point in nine straight contests.
Thornton had three assists, pushing his league-leading total to 79. The top overall pick from the 1997 draft also has 99 points this season, leaving him nine behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the league lead.
"Right now it's all team oriented," said Thornton, who has four goals and five assists in his last five games versus Atlanta. "We want to do well in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup, so (individual) points aren't an issue."
With 94 points, San Jose is in fifth place in the Western Conference - one point ahead of Minnesota and Dallas.
Bill Guerin, Tkachuk's former St. Louis teammate who was traded to the Sharks on Feb. 27, did not record a point against Chicago but has five goals and an assist in 11 games with his new team.
San Jose is 6-0-1 with two ties all-time against the Thrashers. The only loss came in Atlanta on Nov. 13, 2002.