Panthers hoping to improve playoff chances

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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

replaced.

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."

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

games.

"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

lightly."

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.

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