Series (Game 3 of 6)

Winnipeg leads 4-2

Game 1: Monday, November 30th
Game 2: Saturday, December 5th
Game 3: Wednesday, December 16th
Game 4: Monday, January 18th
Game 5: Saturday, February 6th
Game 6: Tuesday, March 2nd

Jets 3

(17-12-3, 37 pts)

Panthers 4

(14-14-7, 35 pts)

7:30 PM ET, December 16, 2009

BB&T Center, Sunrise, Florida

1 2 3 T
WPG 0 1 23
FLA 2 1 14

M. Frolik (Panthers - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

B. McCabe (Panthers - D): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

I. Kovalchuk (Jets - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Thrashers-Panthers Preview


One of the NHL's worst defenses has plagued the Florida Panthers, but if they consistently score as many goals as they did in their most recent game, they should have no problem climbing back into contention.

The Atlanta Thrashers are already firmly in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, and they'll go for a third straight win as they cap a brief road trip with Wednesday night's visit to Florida.

The Panthers' 3.15 team goals-against average ranks 27th in the league, a big reason Florida (13-14-7) has been mostly mediocre as it tries to reach the postseason for the first time since 2000.

But the team has shown improvement in its own zone lately, allowing just 12 goals in its last six games during a 2-1-3 stretch.

It certainly didn't hurt that the Panthers' offense erupted in a 7-1 win at the New York Islanders on Monday night, with Nathan Horton netting his second career hat trick with a short-handed goal, an even-strength tally and a power-play goal.

Horton leads the Panthers with 32 points but came into the game with just eight goals in 33 games.

"He's not a shoot-first guy, which is rare for a guy with his skill," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "We're constantly on him to shoot more. But it's not a bad attribute to be an unselfish player. He's one of the few players that has that wow factor and can bring people out of their seats."

The Panthers' biggest output of the season helped the team finish 2-1-1 on its road trip, which also featured a 4-2 win at New Jersey on Friday.

"I liked the fact the last couple of nights that when we had a team down, we found a way to close them out," DeBoer said. "We have to continue to do that."

Florida has been unable to do it against the Thrashers this season.

In the teams' first meeting on Nov. 30, Maxim Afinogenov scored the game-winning goal for Atlanta with six seconds left in a 4-3 victory, and Ilya Kovalchuk buried the equalizer at Florida on Dec. 5 with 1:04 left in regulation to help the Thrashers win 2-1 in a shootout.

Atlanta (17-11-3) lost three straight after that game but has rebounded with back-to-back victories, including a 3-2 shootout win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

"It was very big for us," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "We want to be on the winning track. Two games in a row is good."

Johan Hedberg helped the team steal the victory over the Rangers, making a career-high 46 saves and stopping both shootout attempts.

"He was our leader," said Kovalchuk, who has a team-high 17 goals and 31 points despite playing in just 25 games. "He was outstanding. He was the best player in the game."

Hedberg has a 2.19 goals-against average this season and could see more consistent time in the crease with Ondrej Pavelec struggling. Starter Kari Lehtonen remains out for Atlanta.

The Thrashers had finished a road trip with three straight regulation losses last week, but they've been mostly solid away from home this season, going 10-5-1 outside of Georgia -- a major reason they are in sixth place in the East.

They've earned at least one point in 11 of their last 14 visits to south Florida, going 7-3-4 there dating back to 2006.