Carolina (26-22-8) at Winnipeg (25-22-10)

By KATE HEDLIN, STATS Writer Sunday, Feb 13, 2011 Puck Drop: 5:00 pm EST Sun Feb 13, 2011

Onetime Southeast Division leaders, the Atlanta Thrashers are now struggling to hold on to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Despite their own slump, the Carolina Hurricanes have picked up enough points to pull into a tie for that eighth seed.

With each team acknowledging the importance of Sunday’s meeting, the Thrashers and Hurricanes face off at Philips Arena with Carolina seeking its fifth consecutive win in the series.

Atlanta (25-22-10) defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 on Friday to snap a four-game losing streak. It was the Thrashers’ third victory in their last 14 games and first since the All-Star break.

“We are a desperate hockey club,” said Evander Kane(notes), who scored twice in the final six minutes of the third period to rally the Thrashers and had an assist earlier in the game. “We got off to another good start as we have in previous games, but tonight we were able to follow it through with a full 60 minutes.”

It was a rare comeback for the Thrashers, who had been outscored 7-3 in their previous four third periods.

Atlanta, which led the Southeast in late December, dropped into a tie for the final playoff spot in the East after the Hurricanes picked up one point Saturday in a 4-3 overtime loss at Tampa Bay.

Carolina has a good chance to overtake its division rival given its success against Atlanta. The Hurricanes have won all three meetings in the season series, with each victory coming after regulation.

“Huge game for us,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s four in six (days), so we’ll have to go to the well a little bit, but I think the magnitude of the game should help us with our energy.”

Carolina (26-22-8) has had its own struggles recently, going 1-3-2 since the All-Star break. However, the Hurricanes mounted a strong rally to salvage a point Saturday, as Jeff Skinner(notes) and Erik Cole(notes) each scored in the final minute of regulation to erase a two-goal deficit.

However, the loss was Carolina’s seventh in eight road games. It had been held to two or fewer goals in the previous six defeats.

Those offensive struggles on the road haven’t surfaced in Atlanta. The Hurricanes have won their last four visits to Philips Arena, outscoring the Thrashers 16-5 in those contests.

Eric Staal(notes), who has nine points in his last nine games including a goal and an assist Saturday, has two goals and an assist this season against the Thrashers. The Carolina center has 12 goals and 14 assists in his last 19 games versus Atlanta.

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Sunday, Feb 13