Last night's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was frustrating on a few levels. It was Cam Ward's first night back, so everyone expected him to be less than sharp. Yeah, strike one. The Bruins lost to the Sabres, giving the Thrashers a chance to tie for 8th. Strike two.
Oh, and I got 8 free seats to share with friends. Of course, that was strike three.
With only six games left, and two of those at home, the Thrashers have to play out of their mind absurd hockey to make the playoffs. I know that by looking at the standings alone it looks like we have a good chance - still 2 back of Boston, and 4 of the Habs and Philly. But you have to think about who you're working with here. The Bruins gave us a good chance, and we blew it against an easily beatable team. Our record against the Southeast is miserable, and as Ben noted over on the game recap, playoffs begin at home. Our record within the division is 8-9-2; the only team that we can manage to beat is Florida who are responsible for half of our wins. You can look to our record against other divisions, especially the Atlantic, and go "Hey, we can hang with the big boys!" We can't beat the three teams beneath us in the standings save for one.. and this is in the Southeast Division. If we do squeak in, we'll play the Caps first round. I'm sure that would go swimmingly.
Oh, and we have 2 more games remaining against them, so if you want proof that the Scheduling Gods hate us, there you go.
The power play is weak, the team caves under pressure... there are lots of signs there that this team isn't ready for the big show. On paper and personnel on the ice wise, absolutely they are. But they're playing timidly, dare I say it... fragile. They're reflecting what they hear in the locker room. Before tonight's game they better hear whatever they got an earfull of on Saturday, because we're playing Toronto, who have been absolutely outstanding down the stretch. Gustavsson has won 7 games straight, and of course he's starting tonight. The Leafs are 5-1-1 in their last 7.
I've always said that the Leafs aren't a bad team - they just need to find their footing. But boy, is this a hell of a time of year for teams like Toronto and Carolina to get going. You have to think of it this way though: if the Thrashers miss the playoffs, they can look back at the last 5 (or 6) game losing streak, or that streak in December... or all of those one goal losses, and they can say "That's what cost us." They have the ability - the penalty kill has been outstanding, as has the pressure on net - but they seem to lack the drive. They're scared of success.
This team is frustrating. Thanks to Brandon and James over at NBC's Pro Hockey Talk a chance to get some of this off of my chest.