A Night To Remember

Looking back over the hockey season that has just come to a close, there is one game that sticks out in my mind the most…the game that I think can be looked back upon as the one that turned the entire 2008-09 Thrashers season from a complete and total devastating disaster, to one that has left us facing the 6-month long off-season more hopeful than disgusted.

It was Friday night January 16th and the Toronto Maple Leafs were in town. Coming into the game the Thrashers were 7-17-3 in their previous 27 and had not won consecutive games since the 5-game win streak that ended in mid-November. They were fresh off a 3-2 loss to Ottawa two nights prior and their record at the time was an abysmal 14-25-5 for 33 points…a pace that, if continued, would have seen Atlanta finish around the 61 point mark. That’s bad…New York Islanders kind of bad.

They were the Titanic and the NHL 2008-09 season was their North Atlantic.

It was Ilya Kovalchuk’s second game since being named team captain. It was also the second game that this new, unheard-of guy named Rich Peverley was to play in a Thrashers uniform. Although few, if any, questioned the selection of Kovy to wear the “C”…many were still scratching their heads over the waiver-wire pick up of the former Nashville Predator.

But hey…it got Jason Williams out of the lineup, right?

As you’ll recall, things started out poorly for the home team, falling behind 3-0 after the first period…Headberg having allowed the three goals on but eight shots. It looked as though this was going to be yet another lopsided loss in what was turning out to be a miserable season that was becoming painful to watch.

That is…until the players wearing Thrasher Blue came charging out of the tunnel for the second period.

The first intermission of that game was the time, as you may remember, that the Thrashers players seemed to have been abducted from the locker room by alien beings who then inhabited their bodily forms for the remainder of the game. I mean, that had to be explanation, right? Those guys could not have been our Thrashers, could they? The were passing well… playing hard, tough, smart defense…and throwing there bodies around the ice at everything in a white jersey with a blue maple leaf on it. And not just with reckless abandon, but with purpose as well.

The lower lines were providing the energy and the rest of the forwards then fed off of it.

Kari Lehtonen was placed in the goal in relief of Hedberg and stopped everything that came his way. Of course, it helped that the defense in front of him allowed only 9 SOG to get through to him for the remaining 40-plus minutes of the game. After splitting the 16 shots on goal after 20 minutes of play with Toronto, Atlanta outshot the Leafs 30-9 over the remaining two periods and 3:51 of overtime.

Kovy and Bryan Little each scored to pull Atlanta to within one by the second break…Kaptain Kovalchuk then tied the score with 4:52 remaining in regulation. This set the stage for that new kid Peverley to score his first goal as a Thrasher in overtime. For the night, The Peever had one goal and two assists, Kovalchuck had a pair of goals and assisted on Peverley’s game-winner.

Ahhhhh…so that’s why John Anderson wanted Don Waddell to pluck this guy up. It was all becoming clear-er-er and clear-er-er.

The Thrashers then took that momemtum up to Nashville to shred the Preds 7-2 the very next night. They would go on to finished out the season 21-17-1 since the beginning of that fantastic come-from-behind victory, including an 11-8-0 mark at home.

Even though that win wasn’t enough to propel the Thrashers into a post-season run, (they were far to removed from such at the time), it did start an incredible turnaround by the team…in their play, their attitude and their style. Unlike the previous year’s version of the Atlanta Thrashers who completely fell apart down the stretch, this squad seemed to progress more and more as the season moved along.

Shortly after, the Thrashers played to a 2-1-1 record on a west coast swing that took them to Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose. Two of those teams are in the playoffs…the other two were in the hunt at the time. The first two games were won 8-4 against the Duck and 7-6 against the Kings. That’s 14 goals in about a 33 hour span…15 if you count the gimmick shootout “goal”.

Later came the franchise-best six game winning streak in which Atlanta bested Montreal, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Buffalo and Washington. The wins against the Canadiens and Avs were by way of Kari Lehtonen shutouts.

They started to embrace this role known as “spoiler”…beating teams in the last few weeks of the season who were in dire need of points to keep their playoff hopes alive. Take a look at Buffalo who came up short of post-season play by 2 points. The Thrashers beat them four times in overtime this season, twice in the last five weeks. The Cal-GARY Flames were beaten 5-2 by Atlanta back on March 8…they lost out to Vancouver for the Northwest Division championship by, you guessed it, two points. That’s the difference between being a #3 seed facing a St. Louis team making it’s first playoff appearance since the lockout… and being a #5 seed and facing the Chicago Blackhawks.

Neither will be easy…but given a choice, who would you pick to play in the first round?

Oh, and don’t you just know Florida wished they had just one more point in the standings…even just gaining one of the two that were lost in a 3-1 loss to the Thrashers two Friday night’s ago on their home ice would have put them into the playoffs.

While it stinks to be going into another Thrasher-less playoff season, the feeling about this team is 100% opposite of what it was this time last year. And to me, that feeling all began in the 45th game of this past season… a 4-3 overtime thriller on a most remarkable evening at Philips Arena.

Congratulations Sean

Our friend at the Blueland Roar, Sean Grace… or should I say, Sean Garguilo…had a night to remember himself Saturday. Just after the Thrashers’ 6-2 smack-down of Tampa Bay he was awarded the 7th Man Award which is given out in recognition of the team’s #1 fan.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Sean and his wonderful wife Stacy last summer when a group of us blogger/writer types were invited to meet with coach John Anderson. He’s as genuine a guy you’ll ever meet and he absolutely bleeds Thrasher-blue! Over the course of this past season I spent most games sharing section 119 with the Sean and it just made the whole experience that much more fun for me.

It’s a well-deserved honor for him and I was thrilled to have been there to see him accept the award from Ilya Kovalchuck…as well as his #17 jersey.

23 comments Add your comment

Brendan

April 12th, 2009
8:06 pm

My most vived Thrashers memory of the 2008-09 season was the 2-0 blanking of New Jersey. I can’t recall the date of that game. But it’s the game that first made me think, “Holy Schnike, Batman. If this team could play like this … it’d be a much better team.”

But the Leafs game is also a good choice. And the franchise-best, six game winning streak is the other milestone. If Atlanta returns to playoff contendership next season, they won’t be in a position to snare Rich Peverley types, as a “bottom-feeder.”

Frosty the snowman

April 12th, 2009
8:13 pm

Brendan, I can’t give you a final answer yet, but will before the 30th. As much as I would not like to see Kovy go, I think he will sign as a free agent with Pittsburgh or Washington.

LAC

April 12th, 2009
8:20 pm

Brenden, it was a 4-0 win in NJ and it was right before NJ went on some 8 game win streak or the like.

A Very Good turn around second half, but still a LOT of improving to do.

Let’s only hope waddell is NOT the one here to try to improve the team…

stendec

April 12th, 2009
8:26 pm

Excellent job all season Bill. Mr Rawhide, sir. I will be back to torment ya again when the first puck is dropped. Enjoy youself and be safe. God bless. Stendec. PS – Knew those Ohio colleges could never finish the deal on any major stage. First Ohio State in football now Miami Ohio in hockey. Choke job of New York Yankee proportions! Oh well. Asta la vista. For now.

Brendan

April 12th, 2009
8:37 pm

LAC, thank you for the correction, 4-0.

Well, the playoff matches are set. Pittsburgh, the 13th seed in the East for half the season, has finished 4th, and will host the Flyers. Either way, I had the Penguins in that series, even if the Pens were the lower seed. Boston doesn’t have a lot of success against Montreal, but I will take the Bruins this time. Bruins in six. The NJ Devils face “red hot” Carolina. I’ll take the Devils in seven. And that leaves Washington vs. the NY Rangers. Capitals in five.

Out West, believe it or not, the St. Louis Blues are now the #6 seed! From 15th to sixth! The Blues own the BEST 2nd-half season record. I’m sure Vancouver is just “thrilled” to be facing them. Chuckling. I’ll still take the Canucks, in seven games, over the Blues. Detroit (2) will face Columbus (7), and the Wings can toss Don Waddell a bone by SWEEPING the CBJ’s, to help DWad save face about being the head of an organization still without a playoff win in the NHL. I’ll take the Red Wings in six. San Jose probably didn’t want to face Anaheim. But they are. Sharks in six or seven. I think the Ducks will win a few surprise games to extend that series. And that leaves Chicago vs. Calgary. The Flames “faltered” down the stretch, in the sense that they didn’t hold on to their division title. Even so, I think the Flames are going to upset the playoff inexperienced Chicago. Flames in six or seven games. Though, I’d be happy to see the Blackhawks take this series, for the hockey pride that exists in Chi-Town.

Darren

April 12th, 2009
8:38 pm

Is it safe to say you’re hoping they re-sign Kari Lehtonen, stendec?

Hockey Biltong

April 12th, 2009
8:53 pm

Ha ha, Darren,you wiseacre!!!
Kari will succeed with a better defence in front of him and maintaining a good regiment offseason. I hope the concussion wasn’t too serious. I had a couple playing rugby and they weren’t anything to take lightly.
And Peverly is da man, by cracky.

Mark

April 12th, 2009
8:56 pm

I hate to bust your bubble Frosty, but there is no way in H*ll that Kovy would ever sign with Pittsburgh. He just doesn’t have the temperament to play second fiddle to Mr. Crosby, poster child of the NEW NHL. That and considering what both the Penguins and Capitals sunk in contract wise to their Uber Stars I don’t think they could realistically put another one on as well as keeping their current roster of supporting players/stars. Remember, Kovy will probably be seeking a contract of length and money above what Alex picked up from the CAPS.
As a fan of the Thrashers, I would love to see Kovy commit to Atlanta especially considering the way the team responded down this past stretch. If the Thrashers management can get their head on straight and do the RIGHT things during this off season then maybe Atlanta will keep on the right path of growth.It’s a hope. I mean even Kovy stepped up after last game and called for the right changes. If you can make the Kovy happy then we could see some very good times to come.

Brendan

April 12th, 2009
9:08 pm

Jacques Lemaire is out as Head Coach of the Minnesota Wild. He has quit. The Thrashers find out their fate Tuesday night, at 8PM. The Thrashers will find out if they draft 1st or somewhere as late as 5th.

English Teacher

April 12th, 2009
9:30 pm

Iceman, it was good to see you again at the post-game show last night. I’m with you on the Toronto game. It felt like the playoffs in the arena that night. I was sitting with Chuck Bell, and we were both absolutely electrified at the energy in the building. I maintain most of it came from that “Greek God” line, and the thing is, they play like that every shift. I, for one, am jazzed about next season.

Frosty the snowman

April 12th, 2009
10:31 pm

I mean even Kovy stepped up after last game and called for the right changes

At the end of every year Kovy calls for the right changes and they never happen.

tbone

April 13th, 2009
6:28 am

It’s Monday, has waddell been fired yet?

Dwayne

April 13th, 2009
8:46 am

Waddell signed a 20 year deal worth 10 million per.

LAC

April 13th, 2009
9:03 am

Good Morning All… Check this quote from EX-Minnesota coach Lemaire…

If I were levenson I would be on the phone right NOW calling Minnesota asking permission to talk with Lemaire for the VACANT GM position in Atlanta.

What you have in him is FIRST-CLASS experience, playing for Montreal and winning all those cups… HE KNOWS HOW TO WIN !

He has been a very sucessful coach of an expansion team, and KNOWS Talent.

What more could the Thrashers be looking for, He Is A WINNER, something don waddell is only in his dreams… waddell is as opposite as Lemaire
as you could be, a Complete Winner, First-Class, Very Well RESPECTED around the NHL and he knows HOW TO WIN !

don waddell, career LOSER, no eye for talent, considered a JOKE by most in NHL and a complete Farce of a GM,he has ruined this team for ten years !

These owners need to act and act NOW to reel in this NHL professional to turn the Thrashers from losers to WINNERS, it would be AMAZING to see the POSITIVE results !!!!! Just think of the players wanting to play for a PROVEN WINNER against a complete LOSER in waddell.

Get It Done you owners before you lose a chance to aquire a proven NHL
talent that WOULD turn us into WINNERS !!!!

Read below what he said !!! He’s looking for a GM job !

I won’t start to mention any teams because I’m still under contract in a way,” Lemaire told the newspaper. “But I’ll be looking for a job. I don’t know what type. But I’ll be looking.”

Richard Dawson

April 13th, 2009
9:20 am

I look forward to the day we don’t have to rationalize our Thrashers’ thoughts by looking at a second-half record, or relishing the spoiler role. There’s no excuse for not having a winner by now.

five_hole

April 13th, 2009
10:07 am

Brendan You are correct and I was trying to be funny and patriotic at the same time. However, I do think it will be done early. Please put me down for Kovy to resign July 10, with Atlanta.

With regards to replacing Waddell (and please keep in mind that I’m all for it), why would Lemaire or any other decent GM want to come to a train wreck of a franchise like Atlanta, with the ownership group continually in court and a limited budget?

Dwayne

April 13th, 2009
11:20 am

five_hole. here is why a new GM might want to come here, and i did say might. To build a winner. Then of course, Lemaire likes “D”, would he say buh-by to JA? Wow, questions by the tons…and i’m sure they’ll be lots of answers.

five_hole

April 13th, 2009
12:37 pm

Dwayne I think I understand your point; I think you’re saying that GM’s would like the “challenge” of building a championship team from nothing. And, all other things being equal, I’d tend to agree with that assessment. I would guess that, rather than be a “caretaker” of a team like the Redwings, the GM would like to put their stamp on the franchise.

However, I disagree with you because no competent GM (with other options) would want to be hamstrung by the ASG, minimal staff and no money to acquire talent. I know that if I was offered 2 jobs and only one gave me the tools with which to meet my challenge, I know which one I’d take.

Alan

April 13th, 2009
12:51 pm

Boston doesn’t have a lot of success against Montreal, but I will take the Bruins this time

I’d hardly call a 5-0-1 record on the season as lacking success. Bruins in five.

The only other series I’m paying a lot of attention to is, you guessed it, Detroit vs. Columbus. Detroit in six.

Dwayne

April 13th, 2009
1:02 pm

yeppers…but would’nt Lemaire, or any other GM find out what the ASG is wanting to do??? oooops, i just proved your point.

Mr. Willson

April 13th, 2009
1:24 pm

Heya Bill. Enjoyed the game from the 319. We only went to a few games this year, including Opening Night and Closing Night. After Sat’s game and the last few months, you wonder where this team was all year. I know, it was Tampa Bay, but WOW. There is hope, I hope.

Darren

April 13th, 2009
4:54 pm

The only thing is, Lemaire likes to play trap-style hockey. I don’t know that that would work well with John Anderson’s style. I’d still take him in the organization in a heartbeat.

Brendan

April 13th, 2009
8:58 pm

Alan, I meant historically in the playoffs, not this season. From the very same TSN.ca article:

“The two so-called Original Six clubs will face off for the 32nd time, and the fourth time in this decade. All-time, the Canadiens are 24-7 in playoff series against Boston and have won the last three — in 2002, 2004 and 2008.