The Thrashers have little margin for error.
Such a luxury is long gone. A 30-game stretch, just over a third of the NHL season, with a 7-17-6 record has put the Thrashers on the brink of elimination from the playoff race. The Thrashers (29-29-12) have 70 points and entered Wednesday’s schedule tied with Toronto and New Jersey, six points behind Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot. Carolina, which hosts Toronto Wednesday, leads by four points for the ninth spot. The Thrashers, who have points in four of their past five games, enter Thursday’s game against Philadelphia with 12 regular-season games remaining. There are not a lot of chances to gain an edge on four teams.
“We are all agreed, we have to win, whether it’s 10 games or 11 games,” Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “We have to win. If we string together a couple of losses we’ll be in deep trouble. Really the focus is on whatever it takes [to win]. It doesn’t matter who scores, who blocks a shot. We just need wins.”
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay and his players admit the difficulty of becoming fixated on the big picture as dire as it has become. Their job is the task at hand. Play – and win – the next game.
“I’m speaking for myself, but you can’t help but looking at the big picture when you are not at the rink,” goaltender Chris Mason said. “Especially the situation we are in. We need help from other teams but ultimately we have to win our games. The other stuff we can’t control. You can just watch and cross your fingers. It definitely takes a conscious decision to tell yourself that the only thing you can control, and the only thing we should be worried about, is doing our job. Right now, we have to be desperate. We need guys to get out of their comfort zone. A guy that typically doesn’t block shots, we need him blocking shots. We need guys clearing the front of the net. We need the ultimate sacrifice for us to get in the playoffs.”
Last season Philadelphia and Montreal took the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with 88 points. It appears it will take about that many points to get in again. The Thrashers would have to earn 18 of a possible 24 points just to hit that mark.
Adding to the difficulty has been the emotional roller coaster the Thrashers have been on. On Saturday, they scored four third-period goals en route to a 5-4 overtime win over the Flyers. On Tuesday, they allowed four straight goals in a 4-2 loss to the Devils.
“Those things are very difficult,” Ramsay said. “There were a lot of sad people around [Tuesday] night. To have a lead, blow it, apparently tie it up and have it taken away from you again. Coming off the Philadelphia game you have to regroup. In the hockey business you don’t get a lot of time to sit on it. We are right back to it [Thursday] against a team we just had a tremendous game against.”
* Ramsay said he watched video replays of the disallowed goal Tuesday against the Devils “enough” to reinforce his thought that officials should have allowed the goal before turning to video replay.
Evander Kane tipped a shot into the net with 43 seconds left that would have tied the game at 3-3. However, on-ice officials waved off the goal, saying Kane played the puck with a high stick. The call was upheld after video replay.
“It’s disappointing with all the replays we do have, something that is pretty close like that probably should be a goal and then check it and see if there is a reason it’s not a goal, not the other way around,” Ramsay said. “I thought it was such a close call. We’ve been looking at various replays and I still find it a very close call.”
Ramsay said he was unaware if someone with the Thrashers inquired with the NHL about controversial call.
* Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little did not practice Wednesday but Ramsay said he expected both to play Thursday.
* Defenseman Noah Welch, re-called from AHL Chicago on Monday, was re-assigned on Wednesday. He was brought up with Byfuglien questionable with a lower-body injury.
* Jim Slater, who has missed 33 games with a concussion, skated for 40 minutes prior to practice Wednesday.
* The Thrashers will auction special St. Patrick’s Day jerseys Thursday. Each jersey will be autographed after it is worn by a player during pre-game warm-ups. The auction will take place in Philips Arena’s Main Concourse and fans may bid on the jerseys beginning when doors open at 6 p.m.