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Thrashers-Lightning Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (37-32-6) at Tampa Bay Lightning (40-30-5).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to make sure they'll have a chance to defend their Stanley Cup championship. The Atlanta Thrashers are hoping to prevent that from happening.

Atlanta is Tampa Bay's closest pursuer for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot heading into the second of three meetings - all at the St. Pete Times Forum in a two-week span - between these division rivals.

The Lightning own the No. 8 seed in the East, five points ahead of the ninth-place Thrashers. Tampa Bay also is two points behind Montreal for the seventh spot and four back of sixth-place New Jersey.

"This is a sprint right now. That's the way we're approaching it," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "By no means are we set. Too many crazy things happen as far as this race is concerned."

These Southeast Division foes met in Tampa last Thursday, when the Lightning jumped to a four-goal lead and held off a late Atlanta rally to win 4-3.

That defeat left the Thrashers seven points out of the East's final playoff spot, but they cut that deficit by two with a 5-2 victory over Florida on Wednesday. The Lightning had the night off.

"At least with tonight's game, it's setting up for the two games with Tampa Bay," said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, whose team also plays in Tampa on Tuesday. "At least we gave ourselves a chance."

Since their last matchup with Atlanta, the Lightning split two games with the Panthers, including a 4-1 victory on Monday. It was Tampa's sixth consecutive win at home.

Vincent Lecavalier had two goals and an assist after going six straight games without a goal, which had matched his longest drought of the season.

"It's good to boost your confidence a little bit. The net was getting really small," Lecavalier said. "But the most important thing, we got that win."

Fredrik Modin added his 30th goal and Brad Richards assisted on it, extending his point streak to a franchise-record nine games.

Modin (groin) and defenseman Dan Boyle (ankle) returned Monday after sitting out three games apiece. Defenseman Pavel Kubina missed the game with a lower body injury, but hopes to be ready for this contest.

The Lightning are 6-2-1 over their last nine, a stretch during which they are 14-for-53 (26.4 percent) on the power play.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored with the man advantage for Atlanta on Wednesday, giving him 49 goals to rank second in the league behind Jaromir Jagr (52). Kovalchuk has 12 goals in his last 16 games, including four in three contests this month.

The Thrashers also received a strong performance from Kari Lehtonen, who stopped 39 shots. He had given up four goals or more in five of his previous six starts.

Lehtonen, though, has a 5.81 goals-against average in his last three starts on the road.

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 80 points, 3rd place, 26 PB, Southeast Division. Lightning - 85 points, 2nd place, 21 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 49 goals; Marc Savard, 65 assists; Kovalchuk and Savard, 92 points; Andy Sutton, 132 PIM. Lightning - Lecavalier, 34 goals; Richards, 63 assists and 84 points; Lecavalier and Kubina, 88 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 19.4 percent (96 for 495), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.4 percent (362 for 456), 26th. Lightning - Power play: 16.4 percent (73 for 445), 23rd. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (293 for 358), 17th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Lehtonen (19-15-0, 2 SO, 2.96 GAA); Mike Dunham (4-4-1, 1, 2.65). Lightning - John Grahame (28-20-1, 5, 3.03); Burke (12-9-3, 1, 2.79).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 4-2.

LAST MEETING: March 30; Lightning, 4-3. At Tampa, Fla., Dmitry Afanasenkov had two goals, Tim Taylor snapped a 28-game goal-scoring drought and Paul Ranger scored the first of his 67-game NHL career to stake the Lightning to a 4-0 lead.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 16-19-2 on the road; Lightning - 22-12-2 at home.

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