Coming off a pair of 100-point seasons and with their core in place just two years removed from a Stanley Cup title, the Anaheim Ducks have nonetheless struggled to find consistency.
They're hoping back-to-back victories over one of the Western Conference's top teams will send them on their way.
Anaheim will look to win a third straight game for the first time since November and bolster its position in the crowded Western playoff race Sunday when it hosts the woeful Atlanta Thrashers.
With veterans Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne shunning retirement to return for the full season, the Ducks (28-24-5) were again hoping to be major players in their conference in 2008-09.
But since closing November with four straight victories, they've merely been mediocre, going 14-16-2, with Selanne missing 17 games due to injury and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere enduring a tumultuous campaign.
Anaheim remains on tenuous footing in the West's playoff picture, near the top of a tight nine-team cluster battling for four spots.
"They're all big points for us because of where we are right now," Niedermayer said. "We need every point we can get."
Niedermayer earned his team an extra point on Wednesday night, scoring his second goal of the game in overtime to defeat Calgary 3-2. Four days earlier, the Ducks beat the Northwest Division-leading Flames 2-1 on the road.
Giguere won both games, stopping a combined 47 of 50 shots to bounce back from a four-start losing streak.
The veteran has dealt with the death of his father this season, and his 2.98 goals-against average is a career worst when he's made at least 20 starts. Backup Jonas Hiller has drawn considerable playing time in his place.
But Anaheim is hoping Giguere, 4-2-0 with a 1.92 GAA against Atlanta, is rounding into form for the stretch run.
"It's nice to get two big wins against a good team," Giguere told his team's official Web site. "Hopefully, we can use this as a springboard for us. We're doing a lot of good things out there. If we keep playing that same way, we're going to win more than we lose."
The Thrashers (19-32-5) certainly can't make that claim, having entrenched themselves in 14th place in the East after dropping seven of their last nine.
Their struggling offense has 12 goals in eight games since the All-Star break, including one on 37 shots in Wednesday night's 3-1 home loss to Chicago.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the third straight game, matching his longest streak of the season, but he and Slava Kozlov have scored five of Atlanta's six goals in the last three games.
The surprising bright spot for the Thrashers lately has been goaltending, even though the team still ranks 29th in the league with a 3.46 GAA.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 of 27 shots against the Blackhawks after making 40 saves in Tuesday night's 3-1 win at Tampa Bay, improving his GAA to 3.14.
"He has played two unbelievable games," Kovalchuk said. "When our goalie plays well, we always have a chance to win the game."
Sunday's game opens a four-game trip against Pacific Division opponents for Atlanta, which has been better on the road than at home this season. The Thrashers are 10-15-3 on the road, including wins in their last two.
They haven't visited Honda Center since Dec. 3, 2005, when they lost 2-1. They were defeated by the same score in the teams' most recent meeting, Dec. 13, 2006, in Atlanta.
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