BOSTON – What was a forgone conclusion for two weeks finally became stark reality for the Thrashers.
Atlanta was eliminated from the playoff race with a 3-2 loss to Boston Saturday at TD Garden. The franchise is stuck on one postseason appearance – and zero wins – in its 11-year history. The Thrashers now head into an offseason of uncertainty with an unresolved ownership situation that could see the team sold and moved. Should it stay, the roster likely will be further reshaped.
“It’s frustrating, that’s the feeling right now,” Nik Antropov said. “Nothing else but frustration.”
The Thrashers (33-33-12, 78 points) had a promising start. At one point they were third in the Eastern Conference and first in the Southeast Division. A 30-game slide followed as they went 7-17-6 from late December to early March. The hole proved too deep.
After fighting their way back into the playoff race, the Thrasher traveled to Buffalo for a critical game on March 19. A win would have pulled them to within two points of the Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot. They lost 8-2. From then on, with the teams ahead in standings posting wins, the Thrashers needed a miracle to make the postseason. It didn’t come.
“We can’t really blame anybody but ourselves,” Bryan Little said. “We put ourselves into this position. We played bad hockey for too long and waited until the end to start playing better.”
All season long, coach Craig Ramsay preached that his team needed an attention to detail. It plagued them much of the season and again on Saturday when two costly turnovers resulted in a short-handed and a penalty shot goal for the Bruins.
The Thrashers held a 2-1 lead in the second period on goals by Dustin Byfuglien (20th) and Evander Kane (19th). They had a chance to increase their lead with a power play when Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was called for delay of game. Instead, Zach Bogosian turned the puck over near his own net and the Bruins capitalized as Daniel Paille wristed a shot that beat goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. It was the 10th short-handed goal allowed by the Thrashers.
In the third period, Bogosian skated up the middle of the ice and tried to flip a pass forward in the neutral zone. The Bruins’ Michael Ryder stepped in front of the puck, controlled it and raced in on Pavelec. Defenseman Johnny Oduya chased down Ryder but pulled him down and the referee awarded a penalty shot. Ryder converted the free chance with 7:29 remaining. With the win, the Bruins (44-23-11, 99 points) clinched the Northeast Division.
“The third goal, we were skating right into the middle of a trap and flipping the puck in the air,” Ramsay said. “That’s a detail we’ve talked about a lot, everyone should know by now. You just can’t skate into a trap in the middle. … You have a centerman or a speedy winger carry the puck with a defenseman as a backup. You don’t want a defenseman carrying the puck into the middle of a trap because if it’s turned over, who is the back guy? The goalie.”
The Thrashers have four games remaining before their offseason officially begins.
“We came into the season with high expectations,” Chris Thorburn said. “A lot of people didn’t realize how good a team we had. We had a great first half. We had that lull in January that killed us and set us back. We have a lot of talent here and hopefully we matured during the course of the struggles.”
Notes: Defenseman Tobias Enstrom suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return. … Byfuglien’s goal was his second in the past 17 games. It was the first power-play goal by the Thrashers in five games, breaking an 0-for-16 slump and was just their second goal in 28 man-advantages over the past nine games. … Radek Dvorak was scratched for the second straight game with an upper-body injury. The forward left Tuesday’s game in Montreal in the first period and has not played or practiced since. Dvorak may be experiencing concussion-like symptoms but Ramsay would only say that he “just doesn’t feel quite right.”