They came into this final stretch of games knowing they needed some help. They were just a couple points out of a playoff spot, but the teams they were trying to catch had a game in one hand and tie breakers in the other. Even if they won out, Atlanta needed Montreal, Boston and/or Philly to get tripped up.
Wednesday night, they got some of that much-needed help in Montreal as the Carolina Hurricane slipped past the Canadiens 2-1. Then, as the Thrashers played in Washington, they were received not one, but two gifts in other places. In Boston, the Panthers made a Keith Ballard goal in the first period stand up for a 1-0 Panthers win over the Bruins…and on Long Island, the Flyers were in the process of getting smacked around by the Islanders.
With that, Atlanta found themselves in the same position they’ve been in a few times already of late… all they had to do was take care of their own end of the bargain and they would pull themselves even in the standings for that final coveted playoff spot. Win, and they would match the 82 points that Boston, Philly and Montreal have.
But once again…they just couldn’t find a way to help themselves.
Now…unlike the 4-0 steaming pile of FAIL they plopped on the ice against the Bruins two weeks ago when they had a chance to pull themselves up into a playoff spot and the 4-1 disappointment last Monday against Carolina…on this night the Thrashers played very well against the NHL’s best team. They played solid defense, didn’t make a lot of egregious mistakes, got a good performance again out of Ondrej Pavelec, kept the leagues best power play in check by allowing them but one chance on the man advantage and held the high-powered Capitals offense to just 24 shots on goal.
But still, it just wasn’t enough as they came up on the short end of a 2-1 decision.
The game winner was scored halfway through the third period when Matt Bradley knocked Chris Chelios away from the puck in the corner…then drove it in toward the net from Pavelec’s left side and crammed it past the Atlanta netminder.
The Thrashers had tied the score at one-all late in the second when Tim Stapleton scored his first goal as an Atlanta Thrasher…his second ever in his brief NHL career. It was set up by a nice play in front of Atlanta’s net as Johnny Oduya moved the puck out of the defensive zone and found Stapleton…who banked it into the attacking zone off the left sideboards. Colby Armstrong returned the puck to his linemate who found himself all alone with only Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov to beat.
And beat him he did.
With the loss, the Thrashers remain in the same predicament they were before…at 80 points, two behind three teams, but with one less game to play and holding no tie breaking scenarios.
Tomorrow night, Montreal and Philadelphia will square off against each other…and because NHL rules demand it, one of those teams will come away with points numbers 83 and 84. We in Thrasherville can only hope that the other team doesn’t also pocket an overtime loser point as well.
Then the Thrashers will play in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon before the Habs welcome in Buffalo and Boston plays in Toronto.
And don’t forget those Rangers who’ll play in Tampa Friday and Florida Saturday. They’ll be looking for some help from the Penguins against us in order to try and work their way into the ninth place position we currently hold.
So, as you can see, if it wasn’t easy before…it’s even that much un-easier now.