Though lackluster performances this week prevented the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers from moving into first place, both still have a chance to spend the Christmas break there.
Atlanta looks to rebound from its first regulation loss in seven games and further extend the Bruins' scoring drought Thursday night while avoiding a seventh consecutive loss in Boston.
As the Bruins (17-11-4) sit two points behind Northeast Division-leading Montreal, the Thrashers (19-12-5) are one point out in the Southeast because they're 12-3-2 in their last 17 games.
"Atlanta is a really, really good team, so it's going to be a tough game and one that we must be up for," forward Blake Wheeler told the Bruins' official website.
The Thrashers are 4-0-1 in their last five road games but have dropped six in a row at Boston since a 3-2 win March 31, 2007. However, they have reason to be confident because the Bruins are struggling, losing four of five, and Atlanta ended a 10-game skid in the series in the only meeting this season.
The Thrashers won 4-1 on Nov. 28 as Dustin Byfuglien tied a career high with four points. The defenseman has 20 points in his last 17 games, including a goal Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to St. Louis.
Atlanta had been 4-0-2 in its previous six games, scoring 13 goals in the last two.
"We were a step slow," coach Craig Ramsay said. "You have to dig down and you have to find a way. ... We've got to find a way to get that energy reserve back up. There were times, stretches that we battled back, but we just didn't have that consistent push."
Neither did the Bruins in their latest game, losing 3-0 at home to Anaheim on Monday. Coach Claude Julien's club, held to nine goals in its last five contests, has gone 102 minutes, 57 seconds without scoring.
"It's been stale, our offense," center Marc Savard said. "Claude's trying. He can't yell at us every single night. It's on the guys in this room, too."
Savard has been limited to three points in nine games since returning from post-concussion symptoms. Nathan Horton is second on the team with 23 points but has none in the last four games, and Zdeno Chara is in a five-game drought.
Atlanta has a pair of surging wingers over the last four games, with Anthony Stewart contributing two goals and five assists while Evander Kane has added two goals and three assists.
This game could feature a matchup between the league leaders in goals-against average, with Boston's Tim Thomas at 1.70 and Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec at 1.82.
Pavelec has not yielded more than three goals in 17 straight starts, including a 40-save effort last month against the Bruins, but he has a 13.00 GAA in two appearances in Boston.
Thomas has won his last four starts against the Thrashers, but his .895 career save percentage versus Atlanta is his worst against any opponent.
While the Thrashers next play Sunday against Tampa Bay, Boston doesn't take the ice again until opening a five-game road trip Monday versus Florida.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every NHL game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.