GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (18-17-6) at Carolina Hurricanes (24-10-4).
TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST.
The Carolina Hurricanes closed out 2005 with an 11-point lead in the Southeast Division, the biggest margin for any division leader. The Hurricanes look to strengthen their hold on first place in the new year when they host the Atlanta Thrashers.
"It's a good cushion, but we're not going to sit here and say it's great," forward Rod Brind'Amour said. "We know we've got a tough second half, but it's nice to end the year like this so we can go into the next few days feeling good about ourselves."
Carolina will have to start 2006 without Glen Wesley. The veteran defenseman will be out four to six weeks with a sprained knee ligament he suffered in the Hurricanes' 5-3 win over Montreal on Saturday. Wesley, in his 18th season, has one goal and five assists in 30 games.
The Hurricanes blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Canadiens before Brind'Amour scored his second goal of the game with under two minutes remaining in the third period, giving Carolina its sixth win in the last seven home contests.
"It was a real good win for us because we had to work for it," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "We had to keep battling to get the two points, and I think those kinds of wins make you earn your stripes."
Martin Gerber made 24 saves to improve to 8-2-1 in his last 11 starts.
Cory Stillman had a goal and an assist to push his point streak to a career high-tying eight games, with three goals and 10 assists during that span.
Carolina leading scorer Eric Staal has gone a season-high three games without a point, but had two goals in his last game against the Thrashers on Nov. 29.
The Hurricanes are 10-4-1 at home against the Thrashers, but have lost both meetings with Atlanta at the RBC Center this season. The Thrashers outscored the Hurricanes 14-2 in those games, including a 9-0 win Nov. 12.
The Thrashers have won seven of 10 to climb above .500, and are coming off one of their biggest victories of the season. Slava Kozlov had three goals and added an assist in Atlanta's 8-3 win over Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa on Monday.
The Thrashers' Marian Hossa added two goals and an assist against his former team, and has four goals in the last two games.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and three assists, giving him eight points in the last three contests. Kovalchuk has an eight-game point streak against the Hurricanes, with seven goals and nine assists during that span.
Atlanta has earned a point in 11 of its last 12 games, and is above .500 for the first time since it was 2-1.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 3): Thrashers - 42 points, 3rd place, 10 PB, Southeast Division. Hurricanes - 52 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 25 goals and 56 points; Marc Savard, 36 assists and 72 PIM. Hurricanes - Staal, 26 goals and 51 points; Stillman, 28 assists; Mike Commodore, 78 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 3): Thrashers - Power play: 21 percent (60 for 286), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80 percent (212 for 265), 27th. Hurricanes - Power play: 18.6 percent (47 for 253), tied for 9th. Penalty killing: 80.3 percent (171 for 213), 26th.
GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Michael Garnett (10-7-4, 2 SO, 3.44 GAA); Kari Lehtonen (1-1-0, 2.41). Hurricanes - Gerber (18-7-2, 2, 2.79); Cam Ward (6-3-2, 4.01).
SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 29; Hurricanes 4-3, OT. At Atlanta, Frantisek Kaberle scored 32 seconds into the extra period to lift Carolina.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 8-10-2 on the road; Hurricanes - 15-4-1 at home.