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Thrashers start key stretch with trip to Carolina

by John Kreiser

THRASHERS (20-19-7) at HURRICANES (14-25-7)

Last 10 - Atlanta 2-5-3; Carolina 5-4-1

Season series - It's only the second meeting of the season between the Southeast Division rivals. Atlanta won 6-4 at the RBCCenter in Raleigh on Nov. 27, scoring five times in the third period to overcome a 4-1 deficit. The teams play again in Atlanta in five days, then meet three times in March.

Big story - The Hurricanes are still at the bottom of the overall NHL standings, but they've finally got something to feel good about. Carolina had won three in a row before a 3-1 loss at Detroit on Thursday, moving them within two points of getting put of last place. However, they're still 15 points out of a playoff spot. Atlanta has been playing better over the past week, going 2-1-1 on a four-game homestand after a nine-game losing streak that included seven losses on their longest road trip of the season.

Team Scope:

Thrashers - Despite their struggles over the past month, the Thrashers are just three points shy of the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. But they could have used the extra point that Buffalo took home from Thursday's 2-1 overtime win at Philips Arena. Despite outplaying the Sabres for most of the game, the Thrashers went home with just one point when Derek Roy scored a power-play goal midway through OT.

"Out of the two teams that could afford the point the most, it wasn't us," coach John Anderson said. "We need every point we can get right now. We're not getting out share of breaks right now, but I know if we keep playing hard and as good as we are, good things will happen. The hockey world will even up."

Hurricanes - The 'Canes are using this season as a chance to audition young talent. The latest candidate is left wing Drayson Bowman, Carolina's third-round pick in 2007, who is expected to make his NHL debut against the Thrashers.

Bowman, recalled from AHL Albany, would be the ninth player to suit up for the 'Canes this season after beginning in the minors. He replaces another newcomer, Jerome Samson, who was sent down after playing five games.

"I'm happy with Jerome's game, but we don't want a lot of those young guys running at six, seven minutes for a longer period of time," coach Paul Maurice told the team's Web site. "He'll go back down and get into his 20-minute rotation, and we'll bring Drayson up and give him a chance to play."

Who's hot - Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk has goals in his last two goals and is 2-2-4 in that span. He is 18-17-35 in 21 career games at the RBCCenter. … Ray Whitney leads Carolina (14-25-7) with 14 goals and 32 points, and has four goals in six games after failing to score in eight straight from Dec. 16-31.

Injury report - Atlanta center Todd White sat out Thursday's game for what Anderson termed precautionary reasons but may Saturday. … Maurice said forward Sergei Samsonov (upper body) might be ready to play after missing six games, but was more likely to return Monday. Injured forwards Erik Cole (upper body) and Chad LaRose (lower body) are skating but "still not ready," according to Maurice. Nor is defenseman Joe Corvo (leg).

Stat pack - Tobias Enstrom's assist on Thursday tied him with former Thrasher Yannick Tremblay for the all-time franchise lead in points by a defenseman with 107. Enstrom already holds the franchise mark for assists by a defenseman, which now stands at 93. He's third among NHL defensemen this season with 33 assists. … Staal had an assist against Atlanta in the first meeting season, and his 26 are the most he has against any opponent.

Puck drop - The Thrashers are still in the playoff race, but they won't stay there unless someone other than Kovalchuk starts generating some offense. Maxim Afinogenov has one goal in his last five games while Rich Peverley has just one in his last 13. Colby Armstrong hasn't scored since Dec. 14 and rookie Evander Kane hasn't had a point in his last six games. That has to change quickly - Atlanta has a big chance to make up ground because its next seven games are against teams outside the top eight in their conferences.

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