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Thrashers-Hurricanes Preview

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Eric Staal has been at his best when playing against the Atlanta Thrashers, and the Carolina Hurricanes could use another strong performance from their high-scoring center.

Having alternated wins and losses in their last five games, the Hurricanes (17-15-5) come into Wednesday's home contest with the Thrashers (12-20-4) looking for consistency.

One of those victories came on Friday in Atlanta with Staal leading the way. He scored three times in a 4:31 span in the third period to record his sixth career hat trick and spark a 5-4 comeback win.

In 33 games against the Thrashers, Staal has 15 goals and 22 assists. The 37 points are the most the second overall pick in 2003 has had against any opponent.

Staal leads Carolina with 17 goals, six on the power play and four game-winners. However, scoring hasn't come easily of late for the Hurricanes, who have registered fewer than three goals in five of their last eight games - including a 4-2 loss Saturday to Boston - and have averaged 2.63 in that time.

Aside from his hat trick, Staal has one other goal in the last six games. Rod Brind'Amour has scored once in the last 19, and Tuomo Ruutu has two in the past 11 contests.

Matt Cullen scored on Saturday to break a seven-game drought. Ray Whitney, the team's leader with 32 points, has two goals in the past seven contests, but has totaled nine points.

"I happen to think this team is better than where we're sitting," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "I think we're a pretty decent team. We just have to all get on the same page."

Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has also struggled in his last four starts with a 3.00 goals-against average. He's conceded seven goals in his past two.

Should he start this contest, Ward might want to keep an eye on Bryan Little.

The Atlanta center has scored seven times in the last four games, including his first career hat trick in Friday's loss to Carolina. He also tallied his team-leading 19th goal Tuesday in a 4-3 overtime loss in Toronto.

Behind Little, the Thrashers have scored at least three goals in six of their last eight games. Slava Kozlov has eight assists in his last five games, including four against the Hurricanes, and Todd White has recorded 12 points in the last 10.

However, a porous defense has continued to hamper Atlanta. The Thrashers have allowed 3.68 goals per game and also rank near the bottom in penalty killing at 73.1 percent.

Atlanta had killed off 13 of its last 14 penalties until Toronto's Pavel Kubina scored 33 seconds into overtime on a power play.

The Thrashers' power-play unit has also produced well lately, converting 11 of their last 32 opportunities - including a 3-for-3 performance against Carolina.

After losing five straight to Carolina, Atlanta has won two of the past three meetings. The Thrashers have also gone 6-2-0 in the last eight games at the RBC Center, but have dropped two of the past three.

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