After a two point win over Toronto last night the Thrashers appear to be tantalizing close to making the post-season. They sit in 9th place with 80 points, just 2 points back of a three way tie at 82 points between OTT, PHI and BOS. But looks can be deceiving.
In reality the Thrashers are not 2 points behind but 3 points behind because they lack tie breakers with all three teams that they are chasing. Now factor in that all three teams ahead of them have played one fewer game, the Thrashers are looking at a much bigger gap than just 2 points.
Here is the "What it would take" table for Atlanta Thrashers and one of the three teams they are chasing.
|If Atlanta went||Need 1 team to go|
Best case scenario is that the Flyers goaltending continues to harm their performance and they finish out the season 2-4, but even in that situation the Thrashers have to be nearly perfect 3-1-1 against the Penguins, Capitals and Devils. Frankly I just don't see it happening.
Do the top seeds coast into the playoffs? Could Atlanta catch a break playing WSH, PIT and NJD as those three teams just try to avoid injury as they prepare for the playoffs? Let's take a look at past seasons as a point of reference. In the spring of 2009 the top three teams in the East went 10-4-1 over their final 5 games of the season. In 2008, the top three teams in the East went 11-3-1 over their final 5 games. In 2007, they went 10-4-1. Combined over the last three springs, the top teams won a 72.2% of possible points in their last five games. Any evidence of a late slump?--absolutely not. If that historical pattern holds the Thrashers might expect a record of 2-3 or 1-3-1 over their final 5 games of the season. (EDIT: Thrashers Recaps looked at a larger sample of data and also found that good teams--tend to play well at the end of the season)
Really the Thrashers need a miracle--they either need an amazing run of their own (4-1) or they need a total collapse by one of the teams (1-6) they are chasing. Both of those scenarios are very unlikely. I'm sorry I can't offer a more rosy forecast than this, but if you're looking for a silver lining the Thrashes will still have something to play for right down to the final week. Three losses will mathematically eliminate them, so at worst the Thrashers will still be playing "meaningful" hockey into the final week of the season.