Florida (25-28-7) at Winnipeg (25-26-10)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Thursday, Feb 24, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:30 pm EST Fri Feb 25, 2011

The last time the Atlanta Thrashers had a homestand this long, their lone defeat came against the Florida Panthers.

With his team slipping out of playoff contention, Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay knows his team can’t afford any setbacks during this stretch at Philips Arena.

The Thrashers look to avoid a season-worst fifth consecutive loss Friday night when they begin a critical five-game homestand against the Panthers, whom they face twice in the next nine days.

Atlanta (25-26-10) went 5-1-0 at Philips Arena from Nov. 17-28 to spark a franchise record-tying six-game winning streak. The Thrashers, though, opened that season-high six-game homestand with a 2-1 loss to Florida.

Atlanta had won its previous three home matchups with the Panthers.

Coming off an 0-3-0 trip that has dropped them five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Thrashers need to get back on track on home ice.

“We have five home games coming up. We need five wins,” Ramsay said following a 4-1 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday.

The Thrashers, though, have lost 11 of 15 at Philips Arena and are on the verge of their first five-game skid since an 0-5-1 stretch from March 6-14.

Atlanta ended a four-game losing streak in its last meeting with Florida, a 3-2 shootout win at the BankAtlantic Center on Jan. 17.

Florida (25-28-7) is only three points behind the Thrashers but is in 12th place, meaning it needs to vault at least four teams to make the playoffs. The Panthers, losers of 13 of 17, are coming off back-to-back 5-1 road defeats to the two worst clubs in the East.

Looking to bounce back from Monday’s loss to the New York Islanders, the Panthers went 0 for 5 on the power play and managed 24 shots in Wednesday’s defeat to Ottawa.

“We just didn’t have enough in the offensive end tonight,” said forward Chris Higgins(notes), who scored his 11th goal. “We let them skate out of the zone a little bit too easy and didn’t put enough pressure on their goalie. It seems like we had one shot and they were out of the zone.”

Higgins missed the last matchup with the Thrashers due to a lower-body injury. He scored and added an assist in a 3-2 home loss to Atlanta on Jan. 5.

The Thrashers earned 4-3 victory at Florida on Nov. 3 in the teams’ first meeting this season, winning despite allowing the Panthers to tie a franchise record with 55 shots. Chris Mason(notes) made 52 saves and stopped 43 of 45 shots over the final two periods.

Florida would like to put that kind of pressure on Ondrej Pavelec(notes), who is 3-9-4 with a 3.35 goals-against average in his last 16 starts.

Pavelec, though, has gone 4-1-0 with a 1.98 GAA in five starts versus the Panthers. He stopped 33 shots in the Panthers’ last visit to Atlanta.

Florida’s Tomas Vokoun(notes), who made 38 saves in that game, is 1-2-0 with a 3.31 GAA against Atlanta this season after going 10-4-1 with a 2.47 GAA versus the Thrashers over the previous three seasons.

Florida backup Scott Clemmensen(notes), who stopped all 16 shots he faced Jan. 5 after Vokoun was pulled in the second period, made 28 saves Jan. 17.

The Thrashers traded defenseman Brent Sopel(notes) and right wing Nigel Dawes(notes) to Montreal on Thursday for center Ben Maxwell(notes) and a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft.

Atlanta ends its homestand March 5 against Florida.

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Friday, Feb 25