When there is a low scoring game in baseball, they call it a pitching duel. In football it’s known as a defensive struggle. In soccer, when there is very little scoring, it’s called…well, it’s called soccer.
But what we were treated to Friday night from Sunrise, Florida was a fantastic battle of the goalies as the Thrashers’ Johan Hedberg and Florida’s Craig Anderson put on a wonderful performance between their respective pipes. Moose stopped 35 of Florida’s 36 shots on goal while his counterpart turned away 29 of Atlanta’s 32. That’s a collective 64 saves on 68 SOG, a .941 SV% between the two. Really, it wasn’t as much the amount of saves in as much as it was the quality of so many of the stops. For a low-scoring game, there certainly was a great deal of action in front of the nets.
Hedberg made quite a few truly nice ones, including stopping a couple of breakaway attempts. But by far the save of the night belonged to Anderson as he denied Jimmy Slater in the middle of the second to keep the score tied at one. Slates broke free at the blueline and came in on the 27-year old native of Park Ridge, Illinois, forcing Anderson to the ice as he moved right to left. Anderson then stopped the shot with his right leg while on his belly and then curled the puck in with his raised leg, cradling it into the back of his knee.
A real beauty, eh?
I almost…almost… felt bad for the Panthers’ net-minder at the end of the game when he got caught in no-man’s land trying to flee the ice to allow the extra attacker to come on to try and tie the score… Todd White’s long-range shot was just out of his spawling reach.
Outside of that, the only Thrasher that could solve the Anderson conundrum was Rich Peverley, who snapped a 10-game stretch without a goal by netting two. He scored the initial goal of the game 2 minutes and 23 seconds into the second period after taking a pass from Colby Armstrong, moved in between the circles and snapped off a wrister to beat Anderson.
The lead didn’t last long as Gregory Campbell even it up not four minutes later.
The Peever…who is the unanimous pick for the “Jackie Blue Player of the Year Award”… put the Thrashers on top for good 11 minutes and 6 seconds into the third. As Peverley came in from the right circle, Florida’s defenders seemed to be more worried about Colby Armstrong on the far post and left a wide path for him to take advantage of…which he did nicely!
Shortly after the Pevs Dispenser…tipping hat to The Blueland Chronicle… put the Thrashers ahead, the defense had to kill off a horrendous call by the refs…a “holding” penalty on Boris Valabik.
Then Hedberg and the Thrashers held off the Panthers assault the rest of the way. Florida out-shot Atlanta 11-4 in the final period but Moose was more than up to the task. The one time he was not able to get to the puck in time, Chris Thorburn was there to get a stick in on the puck to deny Nathan Horton of his 22nd goal of the season…one that would have put Florida up a goal at the time.
Johan Hedberg won for the fourth consecutive time after being called on to relieve Kari Lehtonen who was injured last week against the Rangers. Moose has won five straight and seven of his last eight decisions.
Moose is now 13-10-3 for the season.
Thrashers Are Spoiling Them Rotten
Once again the Thrashers played the role of spoiler to perfection…keeping a much needed pair of points from a Panther team desperately trying to scratch and claw their way into a possible playoff birth. Earlier in the week they delivered a set-back in Buffalo’s playoff hopes…last week they made life a bit tougher on New York.
It’s a role they have taken on with pride lately.
Friday’s loss leaves Florida two points behind the 8th-place New York Rangers and three behind the 7th-place Canadiens. They have four games remaining to try and make up the difference…against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta again and then Washington.
That’s not exactly a walk in the park, is it?
Before playing the Panthers again on Thursday night, Atlanta will lace ‘em up for a home-n-home series with the Capitals. Sunday afternoon’s matinee will be in D.C. and Tuesday will see the action take place on the ice of Philips Arena. Washington is currently trying to hold off New Jersey for that second seed in the Eastern Conference, so the Thrashers have yet another chance to help gum-up the works for another opponent.
So, Where Does This All Leave Us?
The win in Florida, combined with Tampa Bay’s OT loss to New Jersey clinches 4th place in the Southeast Division. It also means the Thrashers can finish no lower than 13th in the east and no lower than 27th in the NHL.
Atlanta is now sitting 26th overall in the league standing, one point ahead of Los Angeles and one point behind Phoenix. Those two teams play each other tonight in LA.
Ottawa is 2 points ahead of the Thrashers…Toronto is three. Those two teams are 12th and 11th in the east and 25th and 24th in the NHL overall standings. The Senators do have a game in hand on the Leafs and Thrashers, however.