|ATL||1||2||2||(0 - 0)||5|
|CAR||1||1||0||(0 - 0)||2|
GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (19-21-4-2) at Carolina Hurricanes (15-19-9-2).TIME: Sunday, 1:30 p.m. EST.
The Atlanta Thrashers, a first-place team just a week ago, hope to end a season-high nine-game winless streak when they complete a home-and-home series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Atlanta was arguably the league's biggest surprise through the first half of the season, leading the Southeast Division and apparently headed toward the franchise's first playoff appearance.
The Thrashers, however, have yet to win in 2004, going 0-7-1-1 since a 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Dec. 26. They've fallen from the top spot in the division into second place behind the Lightning.
Ilya Kovalchuk's second goal of the game late in the first period gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead Friday, but Carolina scored three times in the second period and held on for a 4-3 victory at Philips Arena.
"The mentality right now is not where it should be," Thrashers goalie Byron Dafoe said. "Every game we have to play it like it's do or die if we want to get to the playoffs, and we are slipping away fast. You have to realize how tough it is to make the playoffs in this league. All 20 of us have to look in the mirror and say, 'Do we want to make it or not?"
One of the league's best offensive teams for much of the season, Atlanta has struggled in that area lately. Friday was the first time in six games that the Thrashers scored more than two goals.
Dafoe, who made his third straight start Friday, dropped to 0-4-1 in his last five decisions. Regular starter Pasi Nurminen has allowed 15 goals during a personal four-game losing streak.
Although Carolina is four games under .500, it is very much alive in the race for a playoff berth, and still within striking distance of Tampa Bay in the mediocre Southeast.
Jeff O'Neill completed his second career hat trick with a pair of goals in the second period for the Hurricanes, 7-7-1 since Peter Laviolette was hired as the team's coach.
O'Neill had three goals Friday after scoring five times in his first 44 games.
"I'm a goal scorer," O'Neill said. "That's what I'm supposed to do. It's unfortunate it hasn't happened so far, but hopefully I can keep it going."
Carolina, the league's lowest-scoring team, has eight goals in its last two games after totaling nine in its previous six contests.