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Thrashers-Panthers Preview

Saturday, 03.08.2008 / 7:00 PM

Associated Press

Goaltender Craig Anderson made sure the Florida Panthers began their season-high, seven-game homestand successfully. Now, All-Star Tomas Vokoun looks to help them carry that momentum further.

Vokoun will be in the net as the Panthers try for their fourth straight win as they face the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida (30-32-7) endured a 1-4-2 stretch from Feb. 16-29, but has won three straight games behind Anderson, who made 25 saves in a 5-2 home victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Anderson was coming off of consecutive shutout victories over the New York Islanders and Boston on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.

"You want your best games at the end of the year when you're getting that playoff push," Anderson said. "You want to be playing your best hockey. Look at other teams that were playing good at the start of the year. They're kind of fading off right now, but we want to continue to play strong."

Panthers coach Jacques Martin hopes Vokoun can do the same as he returns to the starting role.

"We know he's our number one," Martin told the Panthers' official Web site on Friday. "I think he had a real good season, a good stretch, then kind of dropped off lately. But I think it's a good opportunity to bring him back."

Vokoun, who hasn't won since beating Washington on Feb. 15, posted a 3.76 goals-against average in Florida's six losses during its slump. He looks to shake off his personal struggles and help the Panthers equal a season-high winning streak established Nov. 19-28.

"Nothing changes for me or anybody else on this team," Vokoun said. "You want to win every game and we have to be as desperate as there is if you want to have a chance."

The Panthers, who haven't reached the postseason since 2000, have 70 points - six less than Philadelphia for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. However, Atlanta (30-32-7), which trails Florida by three points, is vying for the same berth.

Vokoun is 3-4-1 with a 2.34 GAA in eight career games versus the Thrashers, and was in net for a 3-2 shootout win in Atlanta on Jan. 10 in the most recent meeting.

The division rivals have split four games, with the Panthers winning the last two. The Thrashers, though, have won three of the last five matchups at BankAtlantic Center.

Atlanta ended its season-high, eight-game losing streak with a 3-2 home shootout victory over Minnesota on Friday. Erik Christensen scored the lone goal in the shootout for the Thrashers, who won for the first time since a shootout at New Jersey on Feb. 15.

"It's been a long time coming and we've battled hard," Thrashers coach Don Waddell said.

Goaltender Johan Hedberg made 37 saves through overtime, then stopped all three shootout attempts for Atlanta, which seeks consecutive victories for the first time since a three-game winning run from Feb. 9-15.

"Finally, it's a huge monkey off our back and hopefully it will take some pressure off our guys," Waddell said. "It gives us an opportunity to put some wins together."

Left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who leads the team with 44 goals and 75 points, contributed a goal and an assist on Friday. He has five tallies and five assists in his last 10 appearances.

In 34 career games against Florida, Kovalchuk has 22 goals and 46 points - tied for his most against any team - including five goals and nine points in four contests in 2007-08.

2007-2008 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Apr 01 '08FLA 3 at ATL 2D. Booth
Mar 27 '08ATL 3 at FLA 2B. Holik
Mar 16 '08ATL 1 at FLA 3O. Jokinen
Mar 08 '08ATL 2 at FLA 3 - OTN. Horton
Jan 10 '08FLA 3 at ATL 2 - SOO. Jokinen
Dec 27 '07FLA 5 at ATL 3N. Horton
Nov 13 '07FLA 2 at ATL 3 - OTI. Kovalchuk
Nov 09 '07ATL 4 at FLA 1C. Thorburn
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