PHILADELPHIA — Craig Ramsay had no words.
Clint Malarchuk had something to say. For that, the former goaltender gets an assist on what could be the Thrashers’ biggest win of the season.
Atlanta rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory over Philadelphia, the top team in the Eastern Conference, Saturday night after entering the final period down by three goals. Ron Hainsey scored the game-winner after the Thrashers totaled four third-period goals.
Ramsay said he decided not to speak to his players at the second intermission even as they trailed 3-0. What else could the coach say? The Thrashers played a strong game and were still losing. It has been all too reminiscent of their recent struggles.
Their playoff hopes were about to take another hit.
Malarchuk, the team’s goaltending consultant, had just announced that Chris Mason would enter the game to start the third period in relief of Ondrej Pavelec. Then he turned and addressed the rest of the team.
“We had to change the tide,” Malarchuk said. “Then I kind of got a little irritated. It’s not my place to do this, [to] talk to the forwards or defensemen or the team. My job is the goalies. This is a bad deal for me to say ‘You’re out, you’re in.’ I turned around and said ‘You guys got to understand this [stuff]. These guys play every night. Can we not just gut it up and do it for teammates? We are a family and we have to understand that when one guy is down you fight, you push. We are family. Let’s do it for family.’”
The Thrashers got goals from Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and Andrew Ladd. The game-tying goal came with 46 seconds remaining and the Thrashers’ goal empty.
Entering Sunday’s NHL schedule the Thrashers were tied for 10th in the conference with Toronto at 70 points. They were four points behind Buffalo (74) for the eighth and final playoff spot and two points behind ninth-place Carolina (72). Buffalo, with a game in hand, hosted Ottawa Sunday.
“They guys responded,” said Mason, who stopped 11-of-12 shots. “Clint is a very honest guy, very respected. He comes in and speaks from the heart. Guys recognize that and they responded to that. They answered the call.
“It might be the game. This is a game that brings everybody together and gives everybody that belief that we came in, against the top team in the Eastern Conference, and knocked them off. It was unbelievable.”
The Thrashers have points in their past four games going 3-0-1. All three wins have come in overtime, adding a flair for the dramatic in their playoff push with 13 games remaining. Next up is New Jersey on Tuesday. It was the Devils who twice rallied from one-goal deficits to defeat the Thrashers in overtime three days ago.
An uphill battle for the playoffs remains. The Thrashers need to jump three teams in the standings with nine road games left. If the Thrashers make the postseason for just the second time in franchise history, they will certainly point to Saturday’s victory as a key – not only to the season but perhaps beyond.
“This is a game that you don’t forget,” Ramsay said. “This game was special. We’ve have so many wonderful games this season where we played so well, so hard. This is one where we got rewarded for all that hard work. There was such desperation on the faces of each player. Each player that came off [the ice] was exhausted but within seconds they were looking at me to go back out.”