ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Thrashers keep on winning. Still, they're at the brink of elimination from the NHL playoffs.
Defenseman Andy Sutton scored two goals, including the game winner with 10:51 remaining, to give the Thrashers a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
For a few hours, Atlanta was within one point of Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the Lightning defeated Carolina 3-2 in overtime Saturday night, restoring a three-point margin over the Thrashers.
Atlanta must win its final two games - at Washington on Monday and at Florida the following night - to have any chance of making the playoffs. Even then, either the Lightning or seventh-place Montreal must lose its final regular-season game on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay closes at home against lowly Washington, while the Canadiens host New Jersey in their finale. Montreal is four points ahead of the Thrashers, missing a chance to clinch a playoff berth Saturday with a 4-2 loss to Buffalo.
"No scoreboard watching for me," Thrashers center Bobby Holik said. "I have a job to do and I cannot control what happens."
Sutton's second two-goal game of the season came four days after his first in a crucial 6-2 win over Tampa Bay. The 31-year-old defenseman seems to be on a one-man crusade to get Atlanta to the playoffs for the first time, which isn't all that surprising.
He's never been either.
"I really want to make the playoffs," Sutton said. "This is my eighth year as a pro, and I've yet to play in a playoff game. That eats at me a lot. You never know how many years you have left. I want to make the most out of them."
Boston, out of the playoffs and playing its season finale, jumped ahead 2-0 before the game was 11 minutes old and was up 3-2 heading to the third period. But the Thrashers rallied for their sixth win in the last eight games, keeping the pressure on the Lightning.
Scott Mellanby, who may retire after the season, scored the tying goal with 14 minutes remaining. The Thrashers broke into the Boston zone with a 2-on-1, Jim Slater deked defenseman Hal Gill to the ice and then threw the puck in front of the net, where it went off Mellanby's left skate as he slid to a stop in front of goalie Tim Thomas.
The officials took a look at the replay but ruled that Mellanby didn't kick it intentionally, letting his 12th goal of the season stand.
"Jimmy held on to the puck for such a long time that I had to stop," Mellanby said. "I knew it was a goal."
Then it was Sutton's turn. He powered into the Boston zone, stopped along the boards, pivoted at the edge of the faceoff circle and beat Thomas with a wicked shot over the glove hand for his second of the game and eighth of the season.
"In the last 30 games or so, I've been trying to get up into the play and help the offense as much as I can," Sutton said. "I want to be a second-wave threat. It's hard for the other team to defend against that."
Mike Dunham, starting his fourth straight in place of injured starter Kari Lehtonen, gave up a couple of shaky goals but made several big stops in the third period.
But it was Sutton who made the best save of all.
In the final minute of the first period, Dunham was hopelessly out of position when Boston's Patrice Bergeron wound up with the puck in front of the net. Sutton dropped to his knees and managed to stop the shot.
"It actually hit me in the butt," Sutton said. "I was trying to cover as much of the net as I could. I've got a pretty big butt. It's hard to miss."
Boston's Mariusz Czerkawski opened the scoring with a shot that slipped through Dunham's legs. The Bruins went up 2-0 when Sutton lost the puck in the corner to Bergeron, who passed in front to Marco Sturm, standing all alone in front to bang in his 29th goal.
But Sutton made up for his mistake by deflecting in a shot from the blue line by Niclas Havelid, cutting Boston's lead in half. Slater tied it up off an assist from Mellanby, beating Thomas through the legs.
Travis Green scored a shorthanded goal for the Bruins in the second period, taking advantage of Dunham's indecision when the puck was dumped into the Atlanta zone. The goalie started to come out to play it, then backed off. Green swooped in on the breakaway and beat Dunham with a backhanded shot.
But Boston couldn't hang on, closing the season with a five-game losing streak - three in overtime, the others on one-goal defeats in regulation. In all, Boston had 32 one-goal losses while missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
"This game was a microcosm of our season," Thomas said. "We had a chance to win every game."
Notes: Havelid was awarded the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy, which goes to Atlanta's unsung hero for the season. Havelid received the award from Snyder's parents during a pregame ceremony. Snyder died before the 2003 season after a car driven by teammate Dany Heatley smashed into a wall in a high-speed crash. ... Sutton also had an assist, tying his career high with three points. ... The Thrashers had their sixth sellout of the season.
|Mariusz Czerkawski (8) ASST: Travis Green (12)|
1 - 0 BOS
|Marco Sturm (29) ASST: Patrice Bergeron (42)|
2 - 0 BOS
|Andy Sutton (7) ASST: Niclas Havelid (27), Vyacheslav Kozlov (45)|
2 - 1 BOS
|Jim Slater (10) ASST: Scott Mellanby (21), Bobby Holik (18)|
2 - 2 Tie
|SHG - Travis Green (10) ASST: Andrew Alberts (6), Marco Sturm (30)|
3 - 2 BOS
|Scott Mellanby (12) ASST: Jim Slater (10), Andy Sutton (17)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Andy Sutton (8) ASST: NONE|
4 - 3 ATL
|Hal Gill Roughing|
|Greg De Vries Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Brad Isbister Hi-sticking against Andy Sutton|
|Bobby Holik Hooking against Hal Gill|
|Josh Langfeld Holding|
|Travis Green Hooking against Patrik Stefan|