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Game 52, Preview and Game Thread: Atlanta Thrashers at Philadelphia Flyers

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#6 Philadelphia Flyers (27-23-3, 57 pts) at #8 Calgary Flames(27-20-8, 62 pts)
Penngrowth Saddledome - 9:30 PM ET - Calgary, Alberta
TV: CSN Philly HD, SportSouth, Yahoo! Online
Radio: 610 WIP, XM 204
This is the open game thread.
Get Atlanta reaction at Bird Watchers Anonymous

Sixth place.

Believe it or not, the Flyers are still there. After a loss to the Penguins in their last game four days ago, we mentioned it would take a minor miracle to be in the same spot come tonight.

That minor miracle has occurred. The Bruins haven't played. The Isles lost once. The Rangers and Habs each lost twice. But on the flip side, three Southern teams have climbed closer, turning the Eastern Conference playoff race into a giant cluster --, you get it.

The Thrashers are one of those teams. Beating the Ducks on Tuesday night gave them 54 points, and while they sit all the way down in 11th place right now, they could climb all the way up to sixth before the end of the night with a win in South Philly tonight.

Despite looking at the standings and finding reasons to believe Atlanta may be a buyer at the trade deadline, the big story down there is that it seems apparent that Ilya Kovalchuk is on his way out. It was reported today by Kevin Allen of USA Today that the Flyers cannot be ruled out of the sweepstakes for the all-star dream player, but as we decided earlier this month as a community here, they simply can't afford the guy without losing major pieces of the team that already exist.

Still, the rumors will persist, and when Don Waddell and Paul Holmgren have a meaningless conversation tonight as they no doubt will, it'll be spun into a meeting discussing Kovy, despite the fact that if they're talking about any player movement, it'll probably be an Atlanta defenseman.

Meanwhile, the bigger story downstairs should be how the Flyers will stop the guy. They were successful in doing so last time these teams met, a 1-0 win by the Thrashers back on November 28. It'll once again be the task of Matt Carle and Chris Pronger to stop him once more. Kimmo Timonen reportedly will see time against Kovalchuk and linemates Nik Antropov and Bryan Little as well.

The Flyers will have to do a better job tonight of executing on their opportunities, something they didn't do Sunday against the Penguins. Ray Emery gets the start against Johan Hedberg.

After the jump, line combinations, stats on those starting goaltenders, questions to answer, and our in-game discussion.

Flyers Line Combinations - no reported changes
Hartnell - Carter - Briere
Gagne - Richards - Powe
JVR - Giroux - Asham
Carcillo - Betts - Laperriere

Carle - Pronger
Coburn - Timonen
Tollefsen - Bartulis

Thrashers Line Combinations

Ilya Kovalchuk - Nik Antropov - Bryan Little
Todd White - Rich Peverley - Maxim Afinogenov
Evander Kane - Jim Slater - Colby Armstrong
Eric Boulton - Marty Reasoner - Chris Thorburn

Zach Bogosian - Ron Hainsey
Tobias Enstrom - Pavel Kubina
Boris Valabik - Anssi Salmela

Starting Goaltenders

Ray Emery 26 1505 14 10 69 2.75 705 636 .902 2

Johan Hedberg 27 1439 11 8 59 2.46 715 656 .917 1

Questions To Answer

  1. Can the Flyers effectively shut down Kovalchuk?
  2. How does the power play fare tonight after it being a focus in practice on Monday?
  3. The Thrashers can be a streaky team, just as the Flyers can. Does either team seem to mail it in at any point during the game tonight?
  4. Will the Flyers be in sixth place come the end of the night?

CSN: watch. WIP: listen. BSH: talk. LET'S GO FLYERS!