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The Ottawa Senators have accrued more points than any team in the past three weeks. The Atlanta Thrashers have gained among the fewest during that stretch.
The Senators (38-22-4) aim to continue their ascent in the Eastern Conference, while the Thrashers (32-23-10) try to start getting their season back on track when the teams close out their season series Friday at Philips Arena.
The Senators have won three straight to improve to 8-0-1 in their last nine games, giving them the NHL's best record since Feb. 7. They are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and have pulled within nine points of East leader Buffalo.
"We're looking at fourth place and home-ice advantage but at the same time, we've got to make the playoffs," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "To do that we've got to keep winning and building up distance winning games like this."
On Feb. 7, the Senators suffered their third loss in four games and were tied for fifth in the conference with Pittsburgh at 63 points, just two ahead of eighth-place Carolina.
The key to Ottawa's surge has been a revitalized offense, led by Jason Spezza and former Thrasher Dany Heatley.
Both players have recorded points in each game of Ottawa's nine-game surge, with Spezza compiling seven goals and 10 assists during that span. His 17 points since Feb. 7 tie Colorado's Andrew Brunette for the most in the league in that stretch. Spezza has multipoint finishes in his last four games, scoring a goal in each.
Heatley has totaled seven goals and eight assists in his last nine games. He has scored six times in his last five contests and will be trying for his first career six-game goal streak Friday.
Traded to the Senators from the Thrashers before last season, Heatley has three goals and three assists in eight games against Atlanta.
Alfredsson had an eight-game point streak snapped Wednesday.
Ray Emery improved to 4-0-0 in five appearances during Ottawa's run by making 27 saves for his fifth shutout of the season Wednesday, 2-0 at home over Carolina.
"It's been a while since I've had a normal game," said Emery, 3-1-1 with a 3.38 goals-against average in five starts against Atlanta. "I wasn't feeling totally confident but toward the end I started seeing the puck better and it was a great game for me to get my feet back under me as the team continues to improve."
Just as the Senators began their rise, the Thrashers started falling. Atlanta has gone from a first-place team in the Southeast Division with a five-point lead to sixth in the East, just three points up on the ninth-place Hurricanes, since Feb. 7.
The Thrashers, trying to secure the first playoff appearance in their seven-year history, went 3-5-1 from Feb. 8-28, tying them with Washington for the fewest points in the conference over that stretch. Atlanta is 3-7-2 since January.
Atlanta made a pair of bold moves to try and get into the postseason for the first time, and is banking on the additions of Keith Tkachuk and defenseman Alexei Zhitnik to help them do that. First, the Thrashers will try to end a five-game losing streak at Philips Arena as they begin a four-game homestand.
Tkachuk and Zhitnik made their Thrashers debuts in Monday's 3-2 victory at Boston, where Marian Hossa's fifth game-winning goal of the season came with 12:32 left.
"Our two new players played a strong game," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "More importantly, it's a message from our owners that we mean business. The time is now to win some hockey games."
Kari Lehtonen's four-game slide ended as he stopped 22 shots. He's 3-3-0 with a 2.88 GAA in seven appearances against Ottawa.
Hossa has three goals and five assists during a five-game point streak. The right wing has three goals and 10 assists in seven meetings with the Senators.
Atlanta has won two of three games against Ottawa this season.