The Atlanta Thrashers have won three straight games for the first time since November, and their unlikely playoff push could land them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference as soon as Sunday.
They may also be putting some doubt in the minds of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Atlanta can finish a surprising season sweep and pull within four points of the floundering Flyers with another regulation victory as the clubs complete a home-and-home series in Philadelphia.
The Thrashers (31-29-11) looked like they were headed for a lackluster finish after trading away Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) on Feb. 4 and totaling eight goals during a six-game losing streak earlier this month, but they’ve bounced back with their first three-game winning streak since a four-game run from Nov. 25-30.
Their 5-2 home win over the Flyers on Saturday night pulled them within one point of idle Boston for the East’s final playoff spot. Atlanta’s only previous postseason appearance came in 2007, when it was swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.
The Bruins face the Rangers on Sunday, but a Boston regulation loss combined with another Thrashers victory would vault Atlanta into eighth place.
A burst of offense has helped Atlanta lately, with the team totaling 15 goals during its winning streak.
After trading away Kovalchuk, the franchise record-holder in nearly every offensive category, the Thrashers haven’t always had an easy time scoring, but Armstrong and Nik Antropov(notes) have four goals apiece during the winning streak.
Antropov has 21 points in his last 15 games, giving him a career-high 63, and Armstrong scored twice in Saturday’s win as Atlanta improved to 3-0-0 against the Flyers this season - a shocking development after the Thrashers dropped their previous 14 games in the series.
Johan Hedberg(notes) made 34 saves in a 1-0 win on Nov. 28 to snap the losing streak. The veteran has started all three wins over the Flyers and all three games during Atlanta’s winning streak, making 25 saves Saturday, but Thrashers coach John Anderson said his team will face a bigger challenge Sunday.
“I think going into Philly will be a little tougher,” Anderson said. “They’re going to be a little more prepared. They’re going to play hard.”
The Flyers (37-29-5) also may be more desperate as the playoff race tightens. Philadelphia is tied with Ottawa and Montreal for fifth in the East, but it is just six points clear of ninth-place Atlanta after going 1-2-1 in its last four games.
A precarious goalie situation is complicating things for the Flyers after Michael Leighton’s(notes) season-ending ankle injury Tuesday. Philadelphia had already lost top goalie Ray Emery(notes) for the season, leaving Brian Boucher(notes) to man the crease.
Boucher allowed five goals on 28 shots Saturday and fell to 5-13-2 with a 2.84 goals-against average.
The Flyers’ offense could not compensate, and a pair of early fights did not provide a spark. The Thrashers had a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes after Philadelphia’s Dan Carcillo fought Atlanta’s Jim Slater(notes) and Laperriere paired off with Eric Boulton(notes).
“You can talk the talk, but it comes down to how you walk,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “Tonight they walked with a really good swagger and good pace. We played like it was just another game.”