That big thump you heard coming from Raleigh, North Carolina was the Atlanta Thrashers falling out of their playoff berth. We’ve seen it coming for some time now, like a train wreck playing out in slow motion…but the sound of it when it actually happens is still rather sickening.
On December 20, the Thrashers beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto 6-3. The win gave them a 19-11-5 record, which at the time was good enough for first place in the Southeast Division and second seed in the Eastern Conference.
That was the high water mark of the season so far.
After the 4-3 overtime loss in Carolina, the Thrashers have now gone 5-10-5 since that time, with only two of those wins coming in regulation. Seven of the 10 regulation losses have been by 3 or more goals, one was by 5 goals and two were debacles in which Atlanta was outscored by 6. In fact, the Thrashers have not even held a two-goal lead in any game since that win in Toronto.
Saturday night, the fall from the top was completed.
As a result of the disappointing outcome Saturday night, Atlanta finds itself in a position they’ve not been since the beginning of the season…out of a playoff spot. The Thrashers and Canes each have 58 points, but they have two more wins and two games in hand. Thus, Carolina has evicted the Thrashers from the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference and has relegated them to the highest non-playoff spot.
Much like Thursday night against the Flames, they played a good game for the most part. They got another strong start from Ondrej Pavelec between the pipes as he stopped 33 of Carolina’s 37 shots. Atlanta also got a pair of very big goals from blueliners in the third period as Brent Sopel and Zach Bogosian each tied the score in that period with blasts from the point. And the penalty kill unit even came up huge in killing of 5 of the 6 Hurricanes power plays, including a two-minute long 5 on 3 that was wrapped around the second intermission.
But once again…the hard work comes up just short.
If you were a neutral-party observer tuning into the game in hopes of watching a very entertaining match, you were not disappointed. It was a close, hard-fought game with the outcome in doubt until the end. But for residents of Thrasherville…this was just the latest in what has been a very frustrating six weeks.
All this underscores the need for the organization to make some sort of move prior to the trade deadline at the end of the month. And the way things are going, it needs to be sooner rather than later. This team needs a strong left wing to take Fredrik Modin’s ice time away from him and add a spark to this offence.
They also, in my opinion, need a veteran defenseman to help this team shut down opponents. But then again…we’ve been saying that every winter for how many years now?
Getting Toby and Slater back onto the ice again will obviously been of benefit. However, this squad is still going to need some help from the front office or this season is in serious danger of going the way every other one has save the spring of 2007.
Trying to close out on a positive note…I was very happy to see Nic Bergfors’ good work of late pay off with a goal. It was only his second goal since the last time the Thrashers played in Carolina a month ago but his play recently has been very encouraging.
Unfortunately for Bergie, the game-winner scored by the flames Thursday came via his miscue in the defensive zone. Too many times in a close game like that, one bad play can mean al the difference and will negate the hard work and effort otherwise put forward.
But in a rare moment of candor in professional sports, he manned up and took full responsibility for it afterwards. “Terrible play by me,” Bergfors said of the play. “I tried to chip it out in the middle because I knew their guy was at the wall. I have to look up there and make sure someone is there if I don’t get it out. It was my point”.
“That was a brutal play by me. I have to look up. If nobody is there, I have to eat that puck”.
I’m always appreciative of a young man understanding the importance of owning up to his mistake and making no bones about where responsibility lays. It’s a sign he understands what he’s supposed to be doing and knows what is expected of him.
It also speaks well of his maturation process.
Also worth noting here is the play by Arturs Kulda. Not surprisingly, he put in a strong game on defense filing in for Freddy Meyer. He seems to always be in good position and provides the coach with quality third line defensive minutes.
By: Bill Tiller – AJC.com Thrashers Fan Blog