HURRICANES (31-35-9) at THRASHERS (33-30-12)
Carolina 4-4-2; Atlanta 5-3-2
Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Southeast Division rivals. This also completes a home-and-home that started with Atlanta winning 4-0 in Carolina on Saturday, giving the Thrashers a 3-2 lead in the series. Rich Peverley leads them with four goals. Jussi Jokinen
has four goals for the Hurricanes.
Every time it looks like Atlanta is about to fall out of the playoff race, the Thrashers respond. They begin play Monday two points out of an Eastern Conference postseason berth. The Hurricanes are nine points off the pace with just seven games left, but in a game like this they could play the role of spoiler.
Any hopes Carolina was entertaining of a miracle finish probably disintegrated in the second period on Saturday. Atlanta took the RBC Center crowd out of the game by striking for three goals and the Hurricanes went quietly into that good night. Manny Legace was bombarded with 43 shots and did well to keep the game close for as long as he did.
"Manny was real good in the first period, but we needed to get more on them, looking for plays rather than just shooting the puck," coach Paul Maurice said. "It hurt our confidence. … The lack of shots early on was not a good sign for our team."
The first period of Saturday's game could have frustrated Atlanta, which outshot Carolina 18-6 but had absolutely nothing to show for it. Peverley and trade-deadline acquisition Evgeny Artyukhin changed that by scoring 57 seconds apart in the middle period to get the Thrashers started, Niclas Bergfors gave them a three-goal lead before 40 minutes had concluded and Jim Slater added a power-play goal late in the third.
"That's so out of our control," coach John Anderson said of the playoff picture. "But we have to do our best when we have it in our control. We went about business tonight really well."
Bergfors has eight goals in 20 games for the Thrashers since coming over in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal. Artyukin, picked up from the Ducks, has three goals and five points in 12 games with his new team.
Rookie defenseman Jamie McBain
has two goals and six points in seven games since the Hurricanes called him up for a March 16 game against the Bruins.
Carolina goalie Cam Ward
returned to serve as Legace's backup on Saturday after missing the previous 18 games with a back injury. Forward Tuomo Ruutu
(shoulder surgery) and defensemen Tim Gleason
(broken foot) and Alexandre Picard (upper body) are all sidelined.
Atlanta is without forwards Evander Kane (broken foot), Vyacheslav Kozlov (head) and Todd White (upper body) and defensemen Boris Valabik (knee) and Christoph Schubert (hip).
Johan Hedberg stopped all 33 shots he faced for the shutout on Saturday after Ondrej Pavelec had started the first four games in this series for the Thrashers. It was the second consecutive meeting that ended with a 4-0 final, as Legace made 27 saves on March 7 for the Hurricanes' first shutout of the season.
"The biggest thing is everybody being on the same page," veteran defenseman Chris Chelios told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in regards to what Atlanta must do down the stretch.
"It sounds cliché but everybody has to do the little things -- getting pucks deep, no turnovers. It sounds simple when you are in the playoffs, or a race like we are now, every goal is huge, every game is big. You have to put all your personal stuff aside now. It has to be about the team now. It has to be everyone all the time, not just some of the people some of the time. It seems to be the same thing for every team now fighting for the playoffs -- consistency.
"I think the guys have their minds right here. Going out and believing if you do those little things you have a chance to win."