You could almost feel it coming. From the first goal that barely squeaked across the goal line, to the two goal lead that evaporated in the third period, you could just feel the Thrashers’ season slipping away at the end of this homestand.
And then Andrew Ladd happened.
Correction – Ladd has been happening a lot recently. He had seven goals in ten games coming into tonight’s match up, and had been practically single-handedly dragging the Thrashers back to respectability. Tonight the captain made a statement – this team isn’t dead yet.
The first goal was one that the team had seen all too often. A thwack by Sergei Samsonov scooted between Mason’s pads and over the goal line – but just barely. The entire first period, the Panthers outskated the Thrashers, and outshot them 15-7. The Thrashers looked tired, distracted… basically everything fans have seen of them so far this homestand.
The second period could not have been different. The Thrashers swarmed over Tomas Vokoun, peppering him with nineteen shots to Florida’s two. For once, when the Thrashers shot, they were rewarded. Just 43 seconds into the period, Blake Wheeler snapped one past Tomas Vokoun to knot the score at 1-1.
The third period also began all Thrashers. Ladd scored off of a rebounded Tobias Enstrom shot for his 23rd goal of the season, and Enstrom’s 40th assist, a little over a minute into the period. Wheeler then scored five and a half minutes later, when one of Dustin Byfuglien’s shots squeaked through Vokoun’s pads. Wheeler was in the right place at the right time, and finished the play.
Of course, the Panthers couldn’t be counted out quite yet. Stephen Weiss scored a rare Florida power play goal from the blue line about a second or two into a Chris Thorburn high sticking call, and then David Booth scored a perfect goal off of a rebound into practically a wide open net three minutes later to knot the game 3-3.
The Thrashers, though, continued to fight through the third period and pushed the game to overtime, where Ladd stormed the net, got a pass from Dustin Byfuglien, and potted his 24th goal of the season and second of the night to give the Thrashers a much, much needed two points.
Both Wheeler and Ladd’s two goals were impressive, but also indicative of the flatness in goal scoring from the rest of the team. The assists on each of the goals was attained by one of Little, Enstrom, or Byfuglien, aside from the first goal which also had an assist by Ladd. Basically, the grouping of Little, Ladd, Wheeler, Enstrom, and Byfuglien – or the team’s top players – were responsible for eleven points. Byfuglien had three assists to go with his nine shots on goal, and has also made it to 30 assists on the year. Little got his 23rd and 24th assists of the season, and Enstrom continues to show why he’s Atlanta’s top defenseman.
Atlanta finishes the evening still in 11th place in the division, but six points out of the last playoff position held by the Carolina Hurricanes. Appropriately enough, the team’s next game is against the Canes on Wednesday. Am I saying there’s still a chance? Statistically, yes; pointwatching is fun anyway – but don’t expect too much. If the Thrashers continue to play like they did tonight, enjoy it and just go with the ride.