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Southeast: Anderson sees hope in Thrashers' play

by Mike G. Morreale /
Perhaps Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson summed it up best following a franchise record sixth-straight victory last week.

"Sometimes you have to go through 15 minutes of hell before you get to heaven," Anderson said following his team's 5-1 victory against the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals on Monday.

Even though the streak would end two days later with a 6-2 loss to the Penguins, Anderson has been extremely encouraged with the way his team has battled down the stretch. The Thrashers, 7-3-0 over their last 10 games, entered the weekend 13th in the Eastern Conference with 64 points.

"As a coaching and management staff, the type of effort we showed against Washington makes you feel good about your young players and the direction you are headed," Anderson said. "There are still lots of games left and you don't know what will happen, but we feel good about ourselves and care about each other. Certainly the crest on the sweater, and that's important."

Anderson also is pleased with his club's special teams. The Capitals, who have the NHL's second-best power play, went 0-for-4 with the extra man, while Atlanta, currently ranked 13th in the League, finished 3-for-4 with the advantage.

"We didn't stand still with the puck and always threatened to take it to the net," Anderson said. "When you have a few bright spots, it makes you feel good about the effort. We're starting to make our own footprints and hopefully we can improve and run with. We have to get that thought of winning all the time in our veins and, dare I say, become a championship team. Hopefully this is the start of it."

The fate of Maurice -- Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford reiterated Monday that no decision would be made on coach Paul Maurice's future with the team until after the season.

Maurice, who has led the Hurricanes to a 24-17-5 mark since taking over Dec. 3, is fine with that decision.

"Jim has the same routine whether you're playing for the Stanley Cup or you miss the playoffs -- he takes his time," Maurice told Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer. "I'm pleased with the way this team is playing right now. I'm not worried about anything else. Whatever happens happens. This is probably the fourth or fifth time I've been on the last year of my contract, so it's nothing new. I always looked at that as a really good opportunity to hit a home run."

The Hurricanes, who are looking to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three seasons, entered the weekend tied with Montreal for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 81 points -- one ahead of Florida.

"My job was to come in with this staff, and as a group, I think we've got these guys playing pretty darn well," Maurice said. "But it's not about the coaching. In so many ways, especially at this time of the year, these aren't kids, they're men, and you're not rallying 'em up with a Gipper speech over 82 games. They're playing well on their own."

Cat scratch fever -- What once was a storybook turnaround for the Florida Panthers suddenly has taken a bit of a detour.

Florida, which has lost six of its past 11 games, entered the weekend on the outside looking in as the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The club snapped a four-game losing skid -- it's longest since suffering six-straight losses from Oct. 25 to Nov. 8 -- Thursday with a 3-1 victory against the Maple Leafs. The victory also marked Florida's first season sweep of Toronto since 1995-96.

Florida coach Peter DeBoer feels the victory over the Maple Leafs will allow his club to "take a deep breath" with only three weeks remaining in the regular season.

"We're right back in the middle of the pack," he said. "Hopefully it gets us back mentally to a point where we can play the way we're capable of playing. I think it will. It was exactly what we needed."

Florida forward Stephen Weiss agreed.

"It was a big win for us, to loosen up and start playing some hockey," Weiss told "I think we've been a little tired the last week or two. When we're loose and skating, that's when we're at our best."

The Panthers, once six points ahead of Pittsburgh, now are four points behind the surging Penguins, who occupy fifth place in the East. The Panthers are one point behind the eight-place Carolina Hurricanes with 11 regular-season games remaining -- six of which are against current playoff-eligible teams.

Defensemen in demand -- The Tampa Bay Lightning utilized their 48th player Tuesday in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In addition to being the 48th player, 22-year-old Matt Lashoff also happened to be the 20th defenseman used this season by the Lightning, who entered the weekend having lost 270 man-games to injury.

"It's been weird. We've had injuries when some guys would just show up at warm-up time," Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet said. "It was that crazy this year. It's tough. Continuity is so big in the NHL; I don't think with having 20 new defensemen, any organization can win in that situation."

Lashoff was acquired by the Lightning from Boston at the trade deadline as part of the Mark Recchi deal.

"I'm relieved to get an opportunity to come in and have a fresh slate," Lashoff told Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times. "What happened in Boston, it seemed things weren't going in the right direction toward the end. I'm just happy to be part of this organization."

Shot stoppers -- Washington Capitals goalie Jose Theodore notched a relatively easy goose egg last Tuesday when he made 19 saves in a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers.

The reason it might be considered a tad less difficult than the 27 other shutouts he's recorded over his career is because the Caps held the Panthers without a shot on goal for the final 26:07 of the game. It marked the fourth time in franchise history -- three of which have come against Florida -- that the Caps didn't allow a shot in a period.

"Everybody did a great job," Theodore told "I was seeing the puck well, the (penalty kill) was great, especially in the third period. No shots, that's a first for me. All the credit goes to the team."

"I've never been involved in a game where that has happened," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It was a great testament to our players and the commitment they made to winning. They proved they can do it when they want to do it."

Of the five shots the Panthers attempted in the third, four were blocked and one missed the net.

"I like when we win 2-1 or 2-0 games because that means we're playing well structurally and we're not giving other teams much offensively and making it a hard night for them," said Caps forward Brooks Laich.

Theodore's 28-15-4 record this season gives him the best winning percentage of his career, and he's within one win of .500 for his career (211-212-44). The last time Theodore was over .500 in his career was Feb. 17, 1997 (5-4-2).

Another reason the Caps were able to limit the Panthers was their ability to keep the puck away from their Southeast Division rival. Washington had five players who won at least 50 percent of their faceoffs, including David Steckel, who currently is second on the team at 56.5 percent. Teammate Boyd Gordon ranks third at 56.1 percent.

Ice chips -- Tampa Bay is 3-9 in shootouts and 4-15 in overtimes. … Lightning forwards Steven Stamkos and Matt Pettinger scored in a span of 10 seconds to tie a franchise record for the two fastest goals on home ice during Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs. … With nine games remaining this season, the Capitals already have surpassed last season's point total (96 in 2008-09; 94 in 2007-08) and win total (45 in 2008-09; 43 in 2007-08). … Zach Bogosian, who was hurt in a knee-on-knee collision with Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke last Tuesday, practiced Thursday and played Friday against the Detroit Red Wings. Bogosian had missed 33 games earlier this season with a broken leg. "As an 18-year-old he's playing the whole gamut and playing it well for us," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "To lose a guy like that again would be very hurtful for the rest of our season." …  Prior to Friday's game against the New York Islanders, Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward had started 19 straight games, going 11-6-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. … Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has seven shots on net, no goals, 1 assist and is a minus-2 in seven games since the March 4 trade deadline. He has scored once since Feb. 5 -- a stretch of 20 games.

Contact Mike Morreale at
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