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Thrashers-Hurricanes Preview

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Thrashers-Hurricanes Preview

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (23-22-6) at Carolina Hurricanes (35-11-4).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

On a night they honor part of their past, the Carolina Hurricanes will have to move on without part of their present.

Carolina seeks its ninth straight home win when it hosts the Atlanta Thrashers at the RBC Center in the finale of a home-and-home series.

The Hurricanes, 12-0-1 in their last 13 home games overall since a 5-2 loss to the Thrashers on Nov. 27, will retire the jersey of the franchise's all-time leading scorer and former captain, Ron Francis, prior to the game.

Francis starred with the Hartford Whalers from 1981-91 and with the Hurricanes from 1998-2004, compiling 382 goals, 793 assists and 1,175 points in 1,186 games.

In a 5-1 win over the Thrashers on Thursday, center Matt Cullen suffered a fractured jaw that will sideline him for two to four weeks. Cullen, who scored on the power play in the second period to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead, is third on the team with a career-high 20 goals.

Bret Hedican and Ray Whitney also had power-play goals for Carolina, which has seven goals with the man advantage in its last three games. During their eight-game home winning streak, the Hurricanes have 13 power-play goals.

"The fact that we've lost one of our last 13 pretty much is a good indicator of how we play," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I don't think we've stolen a lot of games. We've worked hard, earned the points and played pretty good hockey."

The Hurricanes lead the NHL with 74 points and can extend their Eastern Conference advantage to four points over Ottawa Senators with a win. Philadelphia currently is seeded third in the conference with 68 points.

Atlanta is headed in the opposite direction, losing four straight games since a season-high five-game winning streak. The Thrashers have been outscored 18-9 during the skid and have just three goals in their last three games.

The top scoring line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marc Savard and Marian Hossa, averaging 3.78 points per game this season, has combined for just four goals and three assists in the last four contests.

"We have the same team that we did before," coach Bob Hartley said. "But the race is getting tougher and tougher. It's only January, but we're already looking at scores after the game to see who's losing and who's winning."

Atlanta still possesses the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference with 52 points, leading ninth-place Toronto by one point.

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 52 points, 3rd place, 22 PB, Southeast Division. Hurricanes - 74 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 35 goals and 68 points; Savard, 43 assists; Andy Sutton, 98 PIM. Hurricanes - Eric Staal, 31 goals and 65 points; Staal and Cory Stillman, 34 assists; Mike Commodore, 86 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 26): Thrashers - Power play: 20.1 percent (70 for 348), 5th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.7 percent (259 for 329), 29th. Hurricanes - Power play: 19.8 percent (66 for 334), 7th. Penalty killing: 81.0 percent (222 for 274), 18th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Kari Lehtonen (6-5-0, 1 SO, 2.77 GAA); Mike Dunham (4-4-1, 1, 2.79). Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (24-8-2, 3, 2.76); Cam Ward (11-3-2, 3.43).

SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes, 3-2.

LAST MEETING: Thursday; Hurricanes, 5-1. At Atlanta, Hedican and Niclas Wallin each had a goal and an assist, and Ward made 30 saves to improve to 11-3-2.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 10-12-2 on the road; Hurricanes - 22-4-1 at home.


Associated Press
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