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Thrashers attempt to keep hopes alive vs. Flyers

by Adam Kimelman
THRASHERS (32-32-12) at FLYERS (46-20-10)


Last 10:
Atlanta 5-4-1; Philadelphia 5-1-4

Season series: This is the fourth and final meeting between the teams this season. The Flyers won their first meeting in January, but Atlanta has won the last two. Most recently Rob Schremp and Blake Wheeler scored in the shootout to give the Thrashers a 4-3 victory in Atlanta.

Big story: The last time these teams met in Philadelphia, the Flyers blew a 3-0 lead after two periods and a 4-2 advantage with 6:28 left in regulation as the Thrashers forced overtime and won on Ron Hainsey's goal. The Thrashers have struggled since then and need to win as many games as they can the rest of the way if they want to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

The Flyers will look to build off their win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. It was their first victory against an Eastern Conference playoff team since beating the Rangers on Feb. 20.

Team Scope:

Thrashers: Atlanta mathematically still has a shot at the playoffs, but coach Craig Ramsay admits to already turning an eye toward next season.

He's going to spend the last six games of the season watching players not just for how they perform today, but how they might fit into the puzzle for next season.

"You try to focus on each individual game, but there is no question in your mind that players have to show you something," Ramsay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They have to show you their commitment to the team. They have to show you their commitment to battle and go in and do the things they are supposed to do. It isn't about doing these things individually, it's about doing them as part of the group."

Flyers: Tuesday's effort in a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh was the kind of game the Flyers have been searching for nearly for a month. Maybe it just took until the Penguins were a win away from matching them in points atop the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division for them to raise their level.

"We've done a good job for the most part responding when our backs are against the wall and coming out with good efforts," defenseman Sean O'Donnell told "I just wish sometimes we didn't wait until our backs are against the wall.
"That showed a lot of character in this team. We got down 2-1. It's a big rivalry with these guys. We were able to battle back, get a couple bounces and pull out a nice win."

Who's hot:
Thrashers forward Bryan Little has 2 goals and an assist in his last four games. … Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last four games, including his first NHL hat trick last Saturday against the Islanders.

Injury report:
Thrashers forwards Jim Slater (concussion) and Patrice Cormier (upper body), and defenseman Freddy Meyer (head) are out for the rest of the season. … Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen left Tuesday's game after two periods with a lower-body injury, but Philadelphia expects him to play in this one. Forward Jody Shelley is out for at least another month with a broken orbital bone. Defenseman Chris Pronger continues to rehabilitate from surgery to repair a broken bone in his right hand, with the hope he'll be able to return prior to the end of the regular season.

Stat pack: Since the Thrashers' last game in Philadelphia, which featured the Flyers blowing a three-goal lead for the first time since 1987, Atlanta has gone just 3-4-0, while the Flyers are 4-1-3.

Puck drop:
As Kris Versteeg has gotten comfortable in his new surroundings, his play has improved. He has 2 goals and an assist in his last five games, but more than that is just a general comfort on and off the ice.

"For a little while, you're trying out new positions with new teammates," Versteeg told the Philadelphia Daily News. "Now, I have this sense that I'm comfortable with my teammates. And now that I'm back with (Mike Richards), we're trying to get things going again."

Coach Peter Laviolette said more than the numbers on the score sheet, he's seeing the desired compete level in Versteeg.

"I think he's played with a little more of an attitude and an edge," Laviolette told the Daily News. "He's had a little bite in his game.

"He's not a big guy, but he can still cause some havoc out on the ice. I think that gets him in the game and his line in the game."

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