He stands silently in the chilly, damp mist that has blanketed Thrasherville for the past several days. In his hand, he holds a hockey stick with a sharply curved blade instead of a scythe.
Robed in black, he makes his way through the NHL’s landscape to gather up 14 of the league’s poor unfortunate souls. One by one, as they are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention and their playoff aspirations expire, he gathers them up and takes them away.
He is hockey’s Grim Reaper…the angel of the dark light that the Atlanta Thrashers have become very well acquainted over the past eleven NHL seasons.
Thursday night, the Reaper traveled to Philadelphia knowing that a loss to the Flyers would cause the Thrashers playoff hopes to finally flat-line and be declared officially, if not mercifully, dead. Oh, their fate has been known and accepted for some time now and the team’s fans have gathered around the deathbed awaiting the inevitable.
But on this night, death would be cheated as Chris Mason and his 43 saves blanked the Flyers. It was the 21st shutout of Mason’s NHL career and his first as a Thrasher.
Nik Antropov’s third period goal proved to be all the offense the Thrashers would require in the 1-0 win allowing the Thrashers frail playoff chances to cling desperately to life…even if for just one more game. It was goal number 15 of the season for Antropov, who also scored the only goal scored the team’s only goal during Tuesday’s loss in Montreal.
In defeating Philly, Atlanta wrapped up the four game season series with the Eastern Conference’s top team. The Thrashers took three of them…twice beating them in extra time and then Thursday night’s victory.
Saturday afternoon they’ll take on the Northeast Division leading Bruins in Boston. The Thrashers are 2-1 against the Bs this season, winning both games in Atlanta and losing 4-1 up there just before Christmas.
In fact, if you consider the 4-1-1 record against the Southeast Division leading Washington Capitals, they are 9-3-1 so far against the three division leaders and top seeds in the east. Pittsburgh, whom the Thrashers are yet to beat this season, does hold the third highest point total in the conference, but given they trail Philly by four points in the Atlantic Division they are the fourth seed at this time.
Atlanta is 2-1 against the top three out west as they knocked off San Jose 4-2 back on October 16, beat the Big Red Borg 5-1 on Thanksgiving Eve before losing to Vancouver last Friday.
That would leave them with a mark of 11-4-1 against the six division leaders going into this weekend’s bout in Beantown.
Make no mistake… the Atlanta Thrashers will officially and mathematically be eliminated from the playoff race sometime in the coming days. Hockey’s Grim Reaper has time and the odds on his side. All it will take is one more loss or a win by the Rangers and Sabres.
On this night however, as he stood waiting for them next to the Zamboni, they stared back at him and laughed in the face of death.
In defiance, Chris Mason even tossed at goose egg at him.