Thrashers-Hurricanes Preview

BY foxsports • March 8, 2011

The struggling Atlanta Thrashers will play 10 of their final 16 regular-season games on the road.

Starting that stretch against the Carolina Hurricanes could make it difficult for them to earn a much-needed two points. Playing without Dustin Byfuglien might make that even harder.

Because of a lower-body injury, the Thrashers' top defenseman will likely not be available to help his team try to avoid a seventh consecutive road loss and sixth in a row to the Hurricanes on Wednesday night.

Atlanta (27-28-11) has struggled to contend for a playoff spot, thanks mostly to a 5-13-5 slump. The Thrashers, though, earned a rare win Saturday - 4-3 in overtime against Florida - as Byfuglien tied a career high with three assists, including one on former Hurricane Andrew Ladd's winning goal.

However, Byfuglien, who has a career-high 49 points, didn't practice Tuesday, and Atlanta recalled Paul Postma from their AHL affiliate in Chicago.

A prolonged absence by Byfuglien, whose 19 goals lead all NHL defensemen, could hurt the Thrashers' chances of capturing the second playoff berth in franchise history. Playing most of their games on the road to end the season might not help either as Atlanta is 3-9-2 in its last 14 there, and on an 0-5-1 skid - its longest since a season-worst 0-6-2 slump in 2009-10.

The Thrashers ended that slide with a 5-3 win at Carolina on Jan. 16, 2010, but they've lost in all four meetings this season with the Hurricanes (31-26-9), including two at the RBC Center.

Atlanta has been competitive in those games in losing each by only one goal or in a shootout. Both of the losses in Raleigh have come in overtime.

While the Thrashers have labored for the past two months, Carolina has struggled for consistency while trying to move into playoff position. The Hurricanes - ninth in the Eastern Conference - are 6-7-3 since the end of January, and missed out on a third straight win Friday, falling 5-2 in Chicago.

Carolina trailed by one entering the final period but gave up three goals in the first 7:22.

"We need mental toughness, just to battle back every night," coach Paul Maurice said. "We're not going to win all of (our final games), but we'd like to win most of them. ... We need to find a way to get our emotions up as these games get bigger and bigger."

Maurice might need more help from Erik Cole in this game. The winger has three straight game-winning goals against Atlanta, including two in overtime.

Cole has eight goals and 10 assists in his last 18 matchups with the Thrashers.

Maurice might also put Cam Ward back in net after letting him rest for the first time in 24 games Friday. Ward has a 1.95 goals-against average during five straight wins over Atlanta.

The Thrashers' Chris Mason could make his fifth straight start Wednesday. He's 2-2-1 with a 1.39 GAA in his career against the Hurricanes, while Ondrej Pavelec is 2-4-2 with a 3.86 GAA.

Atlanta has lost seven of eight to its Southeast Division rivals.



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