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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Friday, January 30th (All times eastern)

Toronto Maple Leafs (27-13-8-3) at Atlanta Thrashers (21-23-6-2), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - With Dany Heatley's emotional return to game ice behind them, the Atlanta Thrashers try to end a four-game winless streak and move up in the playoff race tonight when they welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to Philips Arena.

On Wednesday, Heatley played for the first time since the tragic September automobile accident that took the life of teammate Dan Snyder. The Thrashers received a late third-period goal from Jeff Cowan to escape with a 1-1 home tie against the St. Louis Blues.

Heatley, the 2002 Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year and last year's All-Star Game MVP, played 22:55 and got four shots on net, which tied for the team lead. He obviously and admittedly needs time to get in full game shape.

Heatley, who suffered two torn knee ligaments and a broken jaw in the accident, made dramatic progress in his rehabilitation. He began practicing with the team on January 16 and engaged in his first full-contact practice on January 21, his birthday.

As for the Thrashers' playoff chances, they currently trail first-place Tampa Bay by nine points in the Southeast Division standings. Bob Hartley's club is ninth in the Eastern Conference race -- five back of the eighth-place NY Islanders.

Atlanta, which is 0-2-2 in its last four contests, will visit the Lightning on Saturday.

Toronto, meanwhile, is in its own battle atop the East. The Maple Leafs have slipped into second in the Northeast Division with 65 points -- one behind Ottawa, which is tied with Philadelphia atop the conference.

The Leafs fell, 2-0, to visiting Carolina on Tuesday to have a three-game winning streak halted. Kevin Weekes made 32 saves for his sixth shutout of the season to back the Hurricanes.

Ed Belfour, who stopped all seven shots he faced in the first period, turned aside 17 of the 19 Carolina tries in the game. Belfour has allowed two goals or less in each of the past four games, but is expected to yield the crease to backup Trevor Kidd tonight. Kidd will make his first start since being touched for seven goals against Ottawa on January 8.

Toronto, 3-0-2 on the road against the Southeast Division this season, will host Ottawa on Saturday.

The Leafs and Thrashers have split two games this campaign, with each club winning in the other's building. Toronto has won three of the past four meetings, including two straight at Philips Arena.

01/30 10:24:33 ET

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