PHILADELPHIA – The Atlanta Thrashers pushed aside the Philadelphia Flyers to remain in the thick of the playoff race.
Ondrej Pavelec made 44 saves, Ron Hainsey, Todd White and Rich Peverley scored, and the Thrashers beat the Flyers 3-1 on Sunday night to move within a point of eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference.
“We aren’t done,” Pavelec said. “We need to make the playoffs and then you can say it was a good season. We have 10 games left, and it’s going to be hard work.”
The heavy lifting has begun. Atlanta has won four straight since a six-game losing streak dropped the Thrashers to ninth in the eight-team race for playoff spots. The Bruins beat the New York Rangers 2-1 earlier Sunday.
The Thrashers have 75 points, leaving them four behind Philadelphia, Montreal and Ottawa. Though the Flyers and Ottawa are tied, the Flyers fell to the sixth seed with 11 games remaining.
“We’re trying to gain momentum here as we move through the end of the season,” Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s tough when you suffer two losses in a home-and-home, but we’re still in charge of what we do here. We’re still (the sixth) seed in the conference, we need to win hockey games moving forward. That’s the most important thing.”
Hainsey opened the scoring 2:04 into the game on a wrist shot from just inside the face-off circle that beat Brian Boucher to the stick side.
A little more than nine minutes later, White took a pass at centre ice from Jim Slater, skated down the right side, and fired it through Boucher’s legs.
“They’re a quick team with a lot of skill and I don’t know if we just thought that since it’s the Atlanta Thrashers that it was going to be an easy game, but they came and worked us hard,” Mike Richards said. “They put more pucks in the net and capitalized on all their chances.”
Richards pulled the Flyers within a goal with 8:04 left in the game. He took a behind-the-net feed from Matt Carle and flipped it over Pavelec’s outstretched glove.
Peverley scored with 3:07 left, using Carle as a screen to flick a wrist shot past Boucher, and sending many Flyers fans to the Wachovia Center exits.
Philadelphia tied a season high with 45 shots. Boucher made 28 saves. He fell to 1-2-1 since replacing the injured Michael Leighton last week.
“It’s better to have 45 shots and one goal than 10 shots and four goals,” said Pavelec, who stopped 51 shots against Ottawa on Oct. 31, 2009. “The guys in front of me did a great job.”
Despite trading their best player, left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 4, and enduring a six-game losing streak last week, the Thrashers have found ways to stay relevant in the sprint for a playoff spot. The Thrashers are 8-9 in the 17 games since the deal.
“We were going good after that move,” Hainsey said. “We needed another (defensive player) and Johnny (Oduya) has been a big addition for us. Nik (Bergfors) has also scored at a high level. We started off well coming out of the trade, but hit a bad stretch that set us back heading into this week. Now, we’re moving forward again.
The Flyers are moving backward. They also lost 5-2 in Atlanta on Sunday, and have lost all four times to the Thrashers this season, after a 14-game winning streak.
“We’re about 20 wins short of evening it up,” Peverley said. “But this is a big weekend for us. We needed three or four points and we were able to get them. We’re on the fringe at the start of the week, and we had to win some games. When you get closer, you start to feel like it’s do-able. The energy level has gotten better, and all of a sudden, we’re back in it.
He paused, then added, “Now, we’re a point out and we have Boston Tuesday, which is our biggest game of the year.”
NOTES: The Flyers are 14-3-2-1 at home against Atlanta. … Thrashers centre Nik Antropov had his multi-point streak snapped at four games. … Carle has scored a point in six of his past nine games.