As of this morning, I'm not very positive on the Thrashers' playoff chances. The danger of being in a four-team race for one spot is that if one of those other three teams get hot, you're in a lot of trouble. That's the problem right now. Montreal has taken 14 points in their last ten games and have opened a four-point lead on the Thrashers with two games in hand. The way they've been playing recently, we could project them taking three points in those two games, which means that the actual deficit is seven points, a significant sum with 23 games to go. And it gets worse when you look at Montreal's home/road situation down the stretch. They have five more home games than road games down the stretch and they're 16-7-4 at home this year.
What I'm getting at is that the Thrashers are going to have to play their asses off to make the playoffs. Assuming charitably that the Canadiens go .500 down the stretch, they'll end up with 91 points. To finish with 92 points, the Thrashers have to take 30 points in their final 23 games. What are the odds that they'll play that well when they've taken 62 points in their first 61 games this year? To be optimistic, we have to take that flight of fancy that sports fans always take: imagining that their team is better than what the results actually show. The Thrashers are a .500 team over 61 games for a reason. They've been outscored by seven goals on the season. They bleed more goals than just about anyone else in the NHL, especially on the penalty kill. I'd love to think that they could win 16 of their final 23 games. Maybe their record is deflated by the fact that they had to play minor league goalies for the first several months of the season. Then again, they've come out of the break with an impressive win in Buffalo, a dispiriting loss in Boston, and an ugly home win against the third-worst team in the NHL. Is there any evidence in that three-game stretch that they aren't a .500 team?
OK, how about one positive thought: there's a non-trivial chance that the Thrashers could catch Tampa. The Lightning have lost two in a row, bleeding 14 goals in the process. They have a home game against Ottawa, followed by a five-game road trip on the docket. Could the Lightning and their shaky goaltending collapse enough that the Thrashers could make up the six-point deficit and pass the Stanley Cup holders? The teams have three games remaining against one another, all of which are in Tampa, and the Lightning are 3-2 against the Thrashers this year, having shut our local hockey collective out twice. OK, that possibility isn't that great. Wouldn't it be lovely if both the Falcons and Thrashers missed the playoffs at the expense of our jean-shorted, Camaro-driving, Quiet Riot-listening friends down I-75? I suppose that's the price we pay for not being overrun by these hordes for the month of March: