The penalty kill has been the most consistent aspect of this Atlanta Thrashers team of late. In fact, they are currently riding a streak of eight consecutive games in which they have not surrendered a power play goal. The last time they failed, in fact, was back on the 16th of the month when Jason Pominville made Evgeny Artyukhin pay for his slashing penalty during the first period of Atlanta’s 4-3 win against the Sabres.
They killed of the subsequent two Sabre man advantages that night…then all four against Ottawa…all three against the Flyers at home as well as all three in Philly…both during the shutout loss to Boston…the one and only last week against the Leafs…all four against the Canes in Carolina up there…all three when the Canes came here Monday night…and then both Tuesday night up in Toronto.
That’s an even two dozen straight successful penalty kills.
And none was more important than the last one, which came with exactly two minutes remaining in the third period and the Thrashers up by one. Jimmy Slater was whistled for the tripping infraction…prompting the latest John Anderson F-bomb dropping while the cameras were closed in. It was as big a PK situation as they’ve face all season. Fail and risk losing in OT and fall another point behind in the standings. Kill it, and keep hope alive.
And kill it they did, and they secured points number 79 and 80 on the season to keep pace with the Boston Bruins who where in the process of beating New Jersey in overtime. It is only the third time in the Thrashers’ ten seasons of play that they have reached the 80-point mark.
Not to be overlooked here is the work between the pipes by Ondrej Pavelec…stopping 27 of 29 shots faced for his 14th win on the year. In his last four starts, Opie is 2-0-2 with a .949 SV%.
The kid has looked real good of late…solid work in goal, good positioning and not a lot of ugly rebounds.
Maxim Afinogenov notch goal number 23 to open the scoring at the 6:18 mark of the second period…tying his career high set in the 2006-07 season. 46 seconds later it was Evgeny Artyukhin hooking up with Marty Reasoner on a two-on-one break to make the score 2-0. It was R2’s fourth goal since coming over from Anaheim earlier in the month.
But it was Nic Antropov proving the game-winner in the third just 57 seconds after Toronto tied the score. Nic tipped in a Ron Hainsey shot for his 24th of the year…he is now just two shy of his career mark of 26 set two seasons ago while with the Maple Leafs.
As it turns out, that goal…scored by the former Maple Leaf…provided the loss that officially eliminated Toronto from the playoffs. It also brought a chorus of boos from Leafs fans.
“It’s OK. They can do whatever they want”, Antropov said of the jeers from the stands. “We got two points, and that’s all that matters”.
Regarding the fact that his goal led to the Leafs’ official elimination from post-season play, Nic quipped, “That’s good to hear”.
And so…it comes to this. The Thrashers with 80 points now trail Boston, Philly and Montreal by 2 points. The three hold the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. However, the Thrashers have five remaining on the schedule while the trio of teams they are chasing have six left.
The Rangers, also with a game in hand, have 78 points after their 4-3 win on Lonnnnn-Gisland.
And the five remaining are those we looked at last summer when the schedule came out and thought to ourselves, “Dang…I sure hope it doesn’t come down to those games to make the playoffs”.
But indeed, that is the situation Thrasherville finds itself in.
As I opined following the 4-1 loss to Carolina, I believe that loss sent the playoff chances up in smoke…because even with the win in Toronto, I still think they have to win a minimum of four games of those five to have a chance. That’s a very tall order indeed, especially for this Jekyll and Hyde team.
But regardless, here we are after 77 games played…after a 0-6-3 nine-game Holiday losing streak…after a 0-5-1 six-game March meltdown…after a 8-7-1 overall month of March…after all of that, here we are with a chance to make these five games in April mean something.
And we don’t have to even wait until Thursday for a game that means a lot to the Thrashers. Tomorrow night Montreal hosts Carolina…so, tomorrow night we become Caniacs. Then, as we watch the thrashers and Caps on April fools day…we keep an eye on the Islanders vs. Flyers game…go Isles! Friday night the Habs and Philly play…so someone gets a pair of points there, we just hope a third point isn’t doled out because of overtime.
But back to the Thrashers…they need some help and they’re gonna have to beat some good teams to get in, so it’s still looks tough. But hey…like the old saying goes, “That’s why they play the games”.