Their once comfortable margin gone.
The Thrashers return from the All-Star break Tuesday to their final 30 games. At one point this season, they were in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. They even held first place in the Southeast Division, albeit for a brief time.
The Thrashers limped into the five-day hiatus with just five wins in their previous 17 games. They hold the eighth and final playoff position in the East by a single point over Carolina. The Hurricanes have two games in hand so the slim margin could be gone all together.
“It’s definitely time for us to get back on board and start rolling,” Thrashers All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said. “We have to get ourselves back up there in the standings because it’s crunch time now. Teams have to start making pushes to be in the playoffs and teams have to start now.”
If the Thrashers are going to return to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons – and the second time in franchise history – the next six weeks could determine their fate. They play 12 of their next 16 games against teams that currently have fewer points in the standings. Ten of them will be played at home where they are 12-9-5.
During the 39-day stretch, the Thrashers do not play back-to-back games. They have three days off between games four times.
“It doesn’t matter what our schedule is going to be,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “We had a pretty good schedule the last couple of weeks and haven’t really done anything with it. We have to be desperate heading into these last 30 games.”
The Thrashers are done with Tampa Bay and Washington, ahead of them in the division standings. Carolina must play those teams six more times.
Carolina returns from the All-Star break Tuesday by hosting Boston. With a win, the Thrashers could find themselves on the outside of the playoff race if they lose when they return with a home game against the New York Islanders Tuesday.
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay is not looking too far ahead. He lives by an old adage.
“You have to play hard against everybody,” Ramsay said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We need to win. We need to get points. We have to be focused. It’s not like you are looking at some distant future. Everything is right in front of you.
“If we take one game at a time, one period at a time, you can really focus in.”
* Left wing Evander Kane, who has missed the past four games with a mid-body injury, practiced on Monday. Ramsay said he will be re-evaluated following Tuesday’s morning skate before a final decision is made on his playing status.
* Goaltender Chris Mason, out with a right knee sprain, skated and faced some shots prior to the team’s practice.
* Center Jim Slater did not practice and there is no timetable on his return from a concussion. He has missed the past 11 games since the injury.
* Byfuglien did not practice on Monday as he was returning from All-Star weekend in Raleigh.