Here is my game story from Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Panthers for those who would like to comment. The Thrashers – and me – are off on Sunday and return to practice Monday. I will report back then.
Andrew Ladd saved the Thrashers. So did Blake Wheeler. So did Dustin Byfuglien.
In turn, there is still playoff hope.
Ladd’s second goal of the game, 25 seconds into overtime, gave the Thrashers a 4-3 victory over Florida Saturday night at Philips Arena.
Ladd and Wheeler both scored twice and Byfuglien assisted on all four goals to keep the Thrashers in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“Guys were confident tonight,” Wheeler said. “We had a different feeling in the locker room, even before the game. There was a different determination level, we were ready to put our heels in the mud and say ‘Enough is enough.’ Do whatever it takes to get two points, whether it’s overtime or regulation it doesn’t matter.”
The Thrashers (27-28-11, 65 points) remained 11th in the conference but moved to within six points of Carolina, Wednesday’s opponent, for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Thrashers snapped a two-game losing streak and won for the second time in the past nine games. They finished a five-game homestand 2-2-1 and play 10 of their final 16 games on the road.
Overtime was needed after the Thrashers couldn’t hold a two-goal lead in the third period. The Panthers’ Stephen Weiss and David Booth scored three minutes apart to erase a two-goal deficit before Ladd’s heroics.
In extra time, Byfuglien poked the puck away from the Panthers in the neutral zone and raced down the right side of the ice. He fired a pass on Ladd’s stick that the captain directed past goaltender Tomas Vokoun to set off a celebration.
“I knew it was coming hard,” Ladd said. “Buff doesn’t usually put in there too soft. I put a lot of pressure on my stick and tried to get it toward the net.”
Wheeler’s second goal with 13:30 remaining gave the Thrashers a 3-1 lead after he knocked in a loose puck at Vokoun’s skates following a Byfuglien shot.
The lead didn’t last.
Weiss scored a power-play goal at the 7:58 mark with Chris Thorburn in the penalty box for high-sticking, his third infraction of the game. Booth tied the score minutes later.
“It was a huge victory,” Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. “They dug down. Sometimes those are the hardest ones, once you have the lead and you look good and you’re playing well, you suddenly cough up two goals and everybody starts to shrink on the bench.
“It takes each guy trying to be the best player they can be. If they do that, we’re a pretty good team.”
Ladd gave the Thrashers their first lead when he broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal 1:08 into the final period. The Thrashers finally scored on the Panthers’ vaunted penalty-kill unit, ranked third in the NHL.
It took the Thrashers 9:58 of power-play time to score with the man-advantage. Ladd’s goal, with two seconds remaining in the fourth power play, gave the Thrashers their first lead. Ladd, with a team-leading 25 goals, now has 10 points (nine goals, one assist) in the past 11 games.
The Panthers and Thrashers entered the final period tied 1-1 after a furious second period by the Thrashers. Wheeler tied the game just 43 seconds in with his second goal as a Thrasher. Ladd took a shot on Vokoun and Byfuglien, in front of the net, shoveled it to a wide-open Wheeler at the right side. Wheeler buried the opportunity.
The Thrashers outshot the Panthers 19-2 in the second period, not surrendering the first attempt until 1:10 remained. The Thrashers had 8:51 seconds of power-play time in the second period — including one four-minute double minor — but managed only four shots.
“That second period was the best we have played all year,” said Thrashers goaltender Chris Mason, who stopped 31 shots.
All six games this season between the teams, four won by the Thrashers, have been decided by one goal.
“We definitely made it a lot closer that we wanted,” Ladd said. “ … We found a way to win and that’s the most important thing. It’s nice to have a good feeling in this room after a tight game. The games before we were battling, battling, battling and it was tough coming into the room with a loss every time.
“It’s a big relief.”
Rookie Alexander Burmistrov returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a broken bone in his right foot. Ben Maxwell was re-assigned to AHL Chicago when Burmistrov was activated from injured reserve.