Panthers hoping to improve playoff chances

Atlanta (33-38-6) at Florida (38-28-11), 7:30 p.m. EDT

SUNRISE, Florida (AP) — Going with Craig Anderson in goal is
paying major dividends for the Florida Panthers.

Anderson will try to help the Panthers improve their playoff
chances and extend their winning streak to four games when they
face the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.

Last month, the Panthers endured a 1-4-3 stretch that put their
playoff chances in danger, prompting coach Peter DeBoer to bench
No. 1 goaltender Tomas Vokoun in favor of Anderson. The veteran
backup has responded by winning three consecutive games with a
2.33 goals-against average.

Vokoun had a 2.58 GAA in the previous eight games before being

Anderson, 15-6-5 with a 2.70 GAA and three shutouts in 30 games
this season, is expected to start again Friday. He made 30 saves
to help Florida to a 5-2 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.

He’s 2-0-1 with a 2.26 GAA in four career games against the
Thrashers, who have been eliminated from playoff contention.

“He’s been great over the past three games,” said Panthers
defenseman Bryan McCabe, who had a goal and an assist against
the Senators. “Given us an opportunity to win every night. Even
when we’ve had slow starts, he’s shut the door.”

Anderson’s strong play comes with Florida battling the New York
Rangers, Carolina, Montreal and Buffalo for the final three
Eastern Conference postseason spots. The Panthers have five
games left.

“It’s handling the pressure the right way and playing our game,”
DeBoer told the team’s official Web site. “That’s all you can
ask. Play our game for five games here and let the chips fall
where they may.”

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Along with Anderson’s goaltending, a revived power play has been
key to Florida’s three-game winning streak. The Panthers rank
24th in the league with a 16.6 percent success rate but are
6-for-12 with the man advantage over the previous three contests
– scoring two power-play goals in each game.

That impressive production followed a 2-for-24 effort in the
previous eight games.

The Panthers look to stay hot on the power play against the
Thrashers, the NHL’s worst penalty-killing team at 75.1 percent.
Atlanta opponents are 12-for-37 with the man advantage over the
last six games.

The Thrashers, though, defeated the Sabres 3-2 in overtime
Wednesday for their third consecutive win and fourth in five

“We are playing the spoiler role, I guess,” said defenseman Zach
Bogosian, who scored a goal Wednesday. “We are trying to play
our hearts out. Hopefully we can do some damage around the
league. We are showing right now that we are not a team to take

Atlanta has scored 18 goals in its last four victories thanks in
part to Ilya Kovalchuk, who recorded a goal and an assist versus
the Sabres to give him a five-game goal streak and six-game
point streak. The All-Star left wing has five goals and six
assists in the last six contests.

Kovalchuk is tied with Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter for third in
the NHL with 41 goals. He has 28 goals and 55 points – his
highest total against any club – in 42 games versus Florida.