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Thrashers-Panthers Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (41-33-7) at Florida Panthers (36-34-11).

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The Atlanta Thrashers knew going into this week this might be their final game of the season. They just hoped that wouldn't have been decided before playing the game.

One day after being eliminated from the playoff race by blowing a third-period lead, the Thrashers close a disappointing regular season when they visit the Southeast Division rival Florida Panthers.

Atlanta's hopes to reach the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's six-year history ended on Monday when it allowed three unanswered third-period goals in a 6-4 road loss to the lowly Washington Capitals.

If the Thrashers had won that game, they would have gone into this matchup needing a victory as well as a loss by seventh-place Montreal or eighth-place Tampa Bay on Tuesday to qualify for the postseason.

"I'm very sad for the entire organization that we come down to the second-last game and we can't force that 82nd game to mean something," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "It's close. But close is not good. It's only good in curling. It doesn't count in hockey."

Peter Bondra's goal with 11:11 left in the second period gave the Thrashers a 4-3 lead, but they gave up the tying goal to Alexander Ovechkin early in the third and allowed two more goals midway through the period.

"You don't want to play that way in big games," Atlanta center Bobby Holik said. "It's unacceptable. Six goals against, trying to get in the playoffs."

Thrashers goaltender Mike Dunham, who had won his previous four starts in replacing injured starter Kari Lehtonen, allowed five goals on 23 shots. He was pulled early in the first period, but had to re-enter when rookie Michael Garnett could not return for the second period because of a pulled groin.

"It's just one of those nights where the bounces where funny bounces," Dunham said. "What else can you say?"

The Thrashers have notched a club-record 89 points, 11 more than their previous high from last season, but expected to make the playoffs as they appeared to be one of the league's most improved teams following the lockout. General manager Don Waddell all but guaranteed Atlanta would make the playoffs midway through the season.

Instead, the Thrashers will be watching the postseason from home along with the Panthers, who are missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

The Panthers also enter after a defeat to the Capitals, falling 2-1 in a shootout on Saturday. Jamie McLennan made 48 saves before the shootout, when he allowed two attempts to slip past him for the loss.

"Jamie gave us a strong game," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "It could have been anybody's game."

The Panthers have lost five of seven, just as they have in the season series with the Thrashers. Both wins over Atlanta came in Florida.

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 89 points, 3rd place, 23 PB, Southeast Division. Panthers - 83 points, 4th place, 29 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Ilya Kovalchuk, 52 goals and 98 points; Marc Savard, 69 assists; Andy Sutton, 144 PIM. Panthers - Olli Jokinen, 38 goals, 49 assists and 87 points; Chris Gratton, 104 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 19.1 percent (100 for 523), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.3 percent (386 for 487), 25th. Panthers - Power play: 15.2 percent (62 for 407), 24th. Penalty killing: 82.1 percent (418 for 509), 15th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Dunham (8-5-2, 1 SO, 2.77 GAA); Garnett (10-7-4, 2, 3.44). Panthers - Roberto Luongo (34-30-9, 4, 3.00); McLennan (2-4-2, 3.01).

SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 5-2.

LAST MEETING: April 5; Thrashers, 5-2. At Sunrise, Fla., Marian Hossa had two goals and two assists, and Slava Kozlov added three assists for the Thrashers. Joe Nieuwendyk had two assists for the Panthers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 17-21-3 on the road; Panthers - 24-11-5 at home.

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