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Thrashers-Avalanche Preview @NHLdotcom

A slump has the Atlanta Thrashers trying to figure out how to keep from falling out of the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, would just like to get back into playoff position in the West.

The Thrashers look to snap a three-game losing streak Thursday when they face the Avalanche for the first time in three years.

Due to the lockout, Atlanta (29-18-9) will be facing Colorado (26-23-4) for the first time since Jan. 22, 2004, when they skated to a 1-1 tie at Philips Arena. The Thrashers went on to finish 10th in the East, while Colorado was the fourth seed in the West.

So far this season, their places in the playoff picture are virtually reversed.

While Atlanta is third in the East, putting it in good position to reach the postseason for the first time in its seven-year history, Colorado trails eighth-place Minnesota by six points in the West and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.

Atlanta, though, has lost three straight to finish a 2-3-1 homestand as it heads into a six-game road trip, its longest of the season. The Thrashers have a five-point lead in the Southeast Division, but are struggling to keep up with first-place Buffalo and second-place New Jersey in the conference.

"We're disappointed with it," said Thrashers forward Scott Mellanby, whose team leads fourth-place Montreal by just three points. "We didn't come out with a lot of points. No disrespect to the teams we played, but losing twice to Philadelphia - those are points we need. We've got to pick it up."

Atlanta has won two straight on the road after losing its previous four, and is 15-9-4 away from Philips Arena on the season. The Thrashers will begin their road trip with four games out west against Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. They'll head back east to finish up at Ottawa and Carolina.

"This is going to be huge for us," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "There's no kidding about that."

The Thrashers' latest loss was 4-3 in a shootout to the Sabres on Tuesday night.

Mellanby, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jon Sim scored in regulation for Atlanta, which dropped to 6-3 in shootouts. The Thrashers were 7-for-71 (9.8 percent) on the power play before Mellanby's goal.

Kovalchuk, tied with Marian Hossa for the team lead with 31 goals, has eight in his last seven games.

Colorado avoided a third straight defeat by rallying for a 5-4 win over Florida on Tuesday night.

The Avalanche had the game's final three goals, with Joe Sakic scoring a power play 25 seconds into overtime after Paul Stastny tied the score - off an assist from Sakic - with 36.7 seconds remaining.

Sakic leads the Avs with 23 goals and needs three more to become the 17th player in NHL history with 600. After Tuesday's game, though, Colorado's captain chose to focus on teammate Karlis Skrastins, who played in his 486th straight game to tie Tim Horton for the longest streak by a defenseman in league history.

"He has really been tremendous and had a great career," Sakic said. "He is really well-deserving of this. He has bumps and bruises everywhere and he keeps coming to play."

Before Tuesday's game, Colorado activated defenseman John-Michael Liles from injured reserve. Liles had been out since breaking his left foot at Minnesota on Jan. 6.

Avalanche forward Brad May, who underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery Sept. 28, might be back in uniform Thursday.

Colorado is 4-2-2 all-time against Atlanta.

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