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Thrashers-Hurricanes Preview @NHL
Thrashers-Hurricanes Preview

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (6-9-1) at Carolina Hurricanes (12-2-1).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

If the Carolina Hurricanes are to extend the best start in franchise history, they will have to stop a player coming off the best game of his career.

Carolina, looking for its 10th straight win, meets Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers at the RBC Center.

Kovalchuk, the top overall pick by Atlanta in the 2001 draft, had his first four-goal game in the Thrashers' 5-2 win Friday over the Tampa Bay Lightning. He joined former teammate Dany Heatley and Martin Havlat, both of the Ottawa Senators, as the only players with four goals in a game this season.

"Kovalchuk - he was worth the price of admission," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "It's nice to see. Let's remember that he missed training camp. The history of guys in the NHL missing camp is never an easy start."

No one has scored five goals in a game since Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings did it on Dec. 26, 1996.

Kovalchuk has three goals and six assists in a five-game points streak against the Hurricanes. For his career, he has nine goals and nine assists in 13 games against Carolina.

But the Hurricanes may have a way to stop Kovalchuk. Martin Gerber made 26 saves for his second shutout in Carolina's 1-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday.

Gerber has won seven in a row since allowing a season-high four goals in just two periods during an opening-night loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 5. In his last three starts, Gerber has been stellar, stopping 84 of 87 shots for a .965 save percentage and two shutouts, both against Florida.

"We have a really good feeling right now," Gerber said. "Even with a couple guys out, we still played like a unit and with a lot of confidence out there."

He has made just one career appearance against Atlanta while a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, stopping 15 of 16 shots in relief of Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a 6-2 loss on Dec. 5, 2003.

Eric Staal scored his 12th goal in the win over Florida. He had 11 in 81 games in 2003-04 for Carolina.

Staal comes into this game with seven goals and 13 assists during a 10-game points streak. He has just one goal and two assists in six career games against Atlanta.

STANDINGS (through Nov. 11): Thrashers - 13 points, 4th place, 12 PB, Southeast Division. Hurricanes - 25 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 9 goals; Marc Savard, 14 assists; Savard and Marian Hossa, 20 points; Eric Boulton and Andy Sutton, 40 PIM. Hurricanes - Staal, 12 goals, 16 assists and 28 points; Erik Cole, 26 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 11): Thrashers - Power play: 22.4 percent (26 for 116), 3rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 77.4 percent (86 for 111), 28th. Hurricanes - Power play: 21.8 percent (21 for 96), 5th. Penalty killing: 81.4 percent (66 for 81), 18th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Mike Dunham (3-3-1, 1 SO, 2.22 GAA); Adam Berkhoel (2-2-0, 0, 3.34). Hurricanes - Gerber (7-1-0, 2, 1.96); Cam Ward (5-1-1, 0, 3.06).

SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes 4-1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: March 15, 2004. Thrashers, 1-0 (OT). In Atlanta, Pasi Nurminen made 31 saves and Heatley scored 1:43 into overtime for Atlanta.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 3-5-1 on the road; Hurricanes - 7-0-0 at home.

Associated Press
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