Close isn’t good enough.
The Thrashers have lost nine straight games to Tampa Bay, including all four meetings this season. The last two defeats have come in extra time, one in a shootout, one in overtime. But in the words of Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay “Playing well is good. Winning is better.”
The Thrashers have two more chances to beat the Lightning – their last of the regular season – over the next four days. After hosting the Southeast Division leaders Thursday, the Thrashers end the season series at the Lightning Sunday. Three days later, the Thrashers end their season series with Washington. The Lightning (59 points) and the Capitals (58) lead the Thrashers (53) in the division.
The best time to make up ground is over the next seven days.
“Yes, we want to beat Tampa,” Ramsay said. “For sure. We want to play well against Tampa. We want to be solid against them. We’d love to beat Washington another time. But we really have to be worried about every single game we play.
“I think it’s vital we play solid against those teams. We talk about it, if we take care of ourselves, if we do our job, then we don’t have to worry about other people. If you spend your time worrying about other people then it takes away the focus of what you are doing. I believe in taking care of your own end.”
The Thrashers are eighth in the Eastern Conference with a three-point lead over Carolina. Their stretch of games before the All-Star break also includes Saturday’s home game against the New York Rangers, two points ahead in the standings.
The Thrashers have slumped over the past month. Their overtime victory at Florida Monday was just their fourth in the past 13 games (4-7-2). That victory came only after two empty-net goals 44 seconds part in the last two minutes to force overtime.
It’s the Lightning who really have the Thrashers’ number.
The Lightning, who last lost to the Thrashers on Oct. 9, 2009, have outscored them 33-18 over the past two seasons. Of the nine losses, four have come in extra time.
The Thrashers are 3-1-1 against the Capitals this season.
“We have some success against Washington and they are a fun team to play,” Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd said. “On the other hand, we haven’t had much success against Tampa and we’ve got to find a way to win games against them. There have been some close ones, but close isn’t good enough. We’ve got to come out with the two points.”
The Thrashers were about to give away company secrets Wednesday, but expect some adjustments as they look to cut down on turnovers caused by Tampa’s trapping style and clogging of the neutral zone.
“There are some minor adjustments we need to make and we’ve kind of gone over it in practice and on video the last couple of days,” said Bryan Little, who has three goals and two assists over the past five games. “We know what to expect. They are a good team and tough to play against. They give us a hard time.”
Ramsay said his team has played well against the Lightning in stretches. However, turn the puck over against the Lightning and they have the firepower to hurt you. Steven Stamkos, in particular. In four games against the Thrashers this season, Stamkos has eight points (six goals, two assists). For his career, he has 22 points (13 goals, nine assists) in 16 games against Atlanta, his highest point total against any NHL team.
“They are ahead of us and now is the time to make a push,” Thrashers defenseman Johnny Oduya said.