The Atlanta Thrashers still control their own destiny as far as whether they will win the Southeast Division. However, so does the team chasing them for the title.
With only two games left in the regular season, Atlanta looks to remain alone in first place - and possibly wrap up the division crown - as it visits the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.
The Thrashers (41-28-11) could have simply needed a win in this game to clinch the Southeast title, but lost 3-2 at home to last-place Washington on Wednesday. That defeat kept Atlanta's lead at one point over second-place Tampa Bay, which has pushed this race down to the wire by winning its last three games.
"I hope this was a kick in the rear for us," Atlanta's Keith Tkachuk said after Wednesday's defeat.
If the Lightning lose to Florida on Friday, the Thrashers will win the division if they beat the Hurricanes. However, if Atlanta fails to clinch Friday, it will close the regular season at home against Tampa Bay on Saturday with the division title on the line. If the teams end up tied, the Lightning would claim the crown because it owns the tiebreaker, having posted more wins.
"We gave Tampa an opportunity to make that game mean something," Thrashers defenseman Andy Sutton said of the regular-season finale.
Though the Thrashers already have wrapped up the first playoff berth in their seven-year history, they would not have home-ice advantage in the first round unless they win the division.
The Hurricanes (39-33-15) were officially eliminated from postseason contention with a 3-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Carolina became the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs the next season since New Jersey in 1996.
"We're completely frustrated as a team. Embarrassed," Carolina center Eric Staal said. "We wanted to be in the playoffs. We wanted to defend the Cup we won last year, and we didn't get it done. It's unacceptable for the guys we have in this room and the amount of talent we have. Everyone feels just terrible."
The Hurricanes have lost three of the last four meetings with the Thrashers after winning the first three this season. Atlanta is 2-0-1 at Carolina this season.
The Thrashers have scored only 12 goals during their 2-3-1 stretch since March 22. They are 3-for-27 on the power play in this span, failing on all 11 chances over the last two games.
Marian Hossa leads Atlanta with 42 goals, but has only one in his last seven games, and is three points shy of the first 100-point season of his career. He scored twice in the last meeting with Carolina, a 3-1 Thrashers win on March 4 in Atlanta.
Hurricanes forward Rod Brind'Amour has 12 points in the season series, his most against any opponent this season. He has a goal and an assist in each of his last two games.