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Thrashers start critical home-and-home with Flyers

by Adam Kimelman
FLYERS (37-28-5) at THRASHERS (30-29-11)

Last 10:
Philadelphia 5-3-2; Atlanta 4-5-1

Season series:
This is the second of four meetings between the teams this season, capped by this weekend's home-and-home series. The Thrashers won the first two games of the series, most recently a 4-3 win Jan. 28 in Philadelphia. Jim Slater scored a pair of goals for Atlanta, both set up by rookie Evander Kane.

Big Story:
Can the Thrashers rise up and make the playoffs this season? Two straight wins against playoff teams has Atlanta flying into ninth in the Eastern Conference.

Can Brian Boucher do it again in goal? The Flyers' third starting goalie of the season looked good Thursday in Dallas. Can he keep it up?

Team Scope:

Flyers --
Boucher made 27 saves on 29 shots Thursday in Dallas -- not bad for his first start since Dec. 21, and only his fifth game overall since then. It also was his first win since Dec. 14.

He was at his best after Scott Hartnell's tie-breaking goal late in the third period. He slid across to get his right pad on a Karlis Skrastins shot from in close moments after Hartnell's goal, and then in the closing seconds he denied Stephane Robidas' rocket from the point through traffic on a Stars power play.

The stop on Skrastins, however, will be the lasting memory.

"I don't even have time to think on that, it happened so fast," Boucher told "He's got the puck in the slot and you hope you're in good position. Fortunately, he hit me."

Said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, "That was definitely the key save of the game. We had gotten the lead and it was point-blank across the ice and he came up with it. That was the biggest save of the night."

Thrashers --
The Ilya Kovalchuk trade was seen as a white-flag deal by many, but not inside the Atlanta locker room. Since the Feb. 4 move that sent their captain to New Jersey, the Thrashers are 6-6-3, and back-to-back wins against Buffalo and Ottawa have catapulted them into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind eighth-place Boston.

"Nobody gives up here, even after the six-game losing streak," Nik Antropov, who had 2 goals in Thursday's 6-3 defeat of the Senators, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I guess everybody expects us to shut it down, but everybody here believes and we are going to fight to the end."

The Thrashers' last two wins came on the heels of a six-game winless skid, so no one's making playoff plans yet -- but with 12 games left, there is hope.

"You never know," Slater told the newspaper. "We've got players in here that believe we can do it. We have a coaching staff that believes we can do it. We have fans that believe we can do it."

Who's Hot --
Since the Olympic break, Flyers left wing Simon Gagne has 8 goals and 10 points. In 15 games before the break, he had just 1 goal and 8 points. … Antropov's 2 goals against the Senators gave him three straight 2-point games.

Injury Report -- Flyers goalie Michael Leighton will miss 8-10 weeks with a severe high left ankle sprain. Hartnell played Thursday in Dallas, but was a game-time decision due to a stomach illness. … Kane (foot) and Thrashers defenseman Christoph Schubert (hip) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack -- Prior to this season, the Thrashers never had beaten the Flyers in consecutive games. All-time, Atlanta is just 6-26-3 with three ties against the Flyers.

Puck Drop --
Slater has been a revelation in Atlanta. He scored the game-winner in the last meeting against Philadelphia, and since Jan. 1, he has 9 goals, 14 points and a plus-7 rating. His goal against Ottawa tied his career-high of 10 on the season.

"Every team we play, they're ahead of us pretty much," Slater told the Thrashers' Web site following Thursday's game. "We've got to win games if we want to be there (playoffs). We've got two tough games coming up against Philly with who we haven't had much success. If we can beat those guys, you never know."

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