There are some times when you come away from a hard-fought overtime/shootout loss and you’re almost happy with the point earned in the standings. There are other times when, for a number of reasons, you just see that extra point as having been stolen away from you by the other team.
To me, Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was more like the latter of those two scenarios.
It’s not just the fact that the Bolts snuck out the back door of Philips Arena with yet another win against the Thrashers…their tenth in a row dating back to opening night of last season…but it was the third straight time they did so in overtime against Atlanta. It’s as if the Lightning have become the Thrashers personal tormentor lately…dangling the second, much-needed and highly-sought after second point in front of our faces only to snatch it away at the very last second. They then skank off the ice, chuckling under their collective breaths.
It’s almost cruel.
However, the overtime consolation “loser point” does indeed get added to the Thrashers’ ledger in the standings. In doing so, they continue to keep themselves two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently remain on the outside looking in to those holding playoff spots at this time.
A quick look at the standings show Atlanta with 54 points, which is good enough to remain in the eighth and final spot for postseason contention. Montreal goes into tonight’s game in Ottawa two points ahead of the Thrashers, but will have played one fewer game after they deal with the Senators. One point ahead of the Habs you’ll find the Rangers, who were beaten by the Canes 4-1 Thursday night.
When New York plays here in Atlanta Saturday night, it’ll be game number 50 on the season for both teams. While the two of them are going at it, Carolina will be up in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins.
All this simply underscores just how tight things are at this time between spots number 6 and 9 in the east standings. Just five points separate the four teams currently holding those places, and things could even get tighter. And that’s pretty much how things are going to be for the remainder of the season I think.
The way I see it, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington are all but locks for this spring’s Great Hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Their positioning may jostle a bit…but those four are in essence “in”. Add to that either Boston or Montreal as the Northeast Division champs…Boston more than likely, IMHO… and five of the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots can be classified as “occupied”. Do the math, and you see that leaves three still available.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, teams like New Jersey and the Islanders are out of it and have been for some time. It could be argued that Ottawa and Toronto are out as well. Not mathematically eliminated, mind you, but for all intents and purposes…yeah.
Then you have Florida and Buffalo with 46 and 47 points respectively. I don’t think one can totally count either of them out of the playoff picture just yet, especially with the Sabres going 7-2-1 in their last ten and having played three games fewer than the Thrashers. But unless they can find a way to shove there way back into within a couple of points soon, they can at least be considered on the postseason hopeful Endangered Species List.
What that leaves us with are the aforementioned Thrashers, Hurricanes, Rangers and Canadiens who I really believe will be the ones playing playoff musical chairs for those last remaining spots. Four teams, three spots…one will be left out. And that is why tomorrow’s matchup with the Blue Shirts has taken just that much more importance.
As far as head-to-head matchup with the other three teams in that group is concerned… this will be the second meeting with the Rangers for the Thrashers. Last October 27, Atlanta was 6-4 winners. They’ll meet again in Atlanta on February 11 and then once more in New York on April 7.
The Thrashers and Habs have locked horns twice already with the good guys coming out on top both times. There was the 3-0 win last November in Atlanta and then the 4-3 overtime victory on the second of this month up in Montreal. The Canadiens are in town once more on March 1 and then they’ll do battle in the Belle Centre on the 29th of that month.
Just in case the Canadiens overtake Boston on the Northeast and the Bruins find themselves playing postseason musical chairs for spots lower down in the standings, the Thrashers have just one more game with them. That will take place in Beantown on April 2. Atlanta has taken both games played here while losing in Boston just before Christmas.
We’ve gone up against divisional foes Carolina twice, losing in a shootout and overtime. Each will host two more games…February 5 and March 9 will be in Raleigh while the games on February 13 and April 8 will be in the friendly confines of Philips Arena.
The game in April will be the second to last game on the schedule for Atlanta and could prove to be quite a meaningful event. The game on the 13th of February is also the one that you can get seats in sections 203 or 204 and a free Thrashers replica jersey for just $26. Just call Kirin at 404-878-3781 or e-mail her at Karin.Beckman@atlantaspirit.com to procure yours.
By: Bill Tiller – AJC.com Thrashers Fan Blog