Both Martin Brodeur and Ondrej Pavelec played an excellent game last Thursday night at Philips Arena. Neither goaltender allowed a goal in the first period, and Pavelec allowed none at even strength. Unfortunately, and outstanding performance by Pavelec was not enough for the Thrashers' to rally around, as silly penalties cost them the game and a point.
The Thrashers have been playing much improved hockey as of late, going 3-0-1 in their last four games and getting more points in those four than they did in the entire month of February. It might be too little, too late. The Thrashers are two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes (who play the Buffalo Sabres tonight, so that game'll probably go into OT to make sure that both teams get a point). They're now six points behind the New York Rangers, the current 8th place team. The Thrashers have played one fewer game on the Rangers, which gives them a slight edge in the standings, but not much. Atlanta has only 29 wins so far on the season, and the Rangers have 36, so a tiebreaker would fall in the Rangers' favor if the two teams ended tied on the last day of the season. If both teams finished with the same number of wins, Atlanta would more than likely have the edge. The newest rule involving the shootout would work in the Thrashers' favor, seeing as how the team has won very few this year. Only one point is awarded in the standings for a SO win when two teams are tied, which gives leverage to the team that's won more games in regulation.
All of that is a moot point if the Thrashers can't win out going down the stretch - and their upcoming games are against teams that are sandwiched around them, fighting for a spot. The Devils are two points behind the Thrashers. Thursday night is a welcome break when they play the Flyers, who they can let get away with an extra point since they're first in the conference. Following that game is a Saturday evening game against Buffalo.
This is the roughest time of the season for any team, but for a team like the Thrashers who were once in the thick of things, being outside looking in makes it look a hundred times worse.
The Devils have gone 22-3-2 in their last 27 games, so tonight isn't an easy match for the Thrashers to win. Anything can happen though - no one thought they had a prayer Saturday night before they came back to win 5-4 in overtime.