Should the Atlanta Thrashers
reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nobody will be able to say they didn't earn it.
The Thrashers are two points shy of a three-team logjam for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, but their finishing schedule is well, daunting. Atlanta has five games left in its postseason push -- two against the Washington Capitals
, two against the Pittsburgh Penguins
and one against the New Jersey Devils
"Everyone in this dressing room knows how hard it is going to be," Atlanta forward Bryan Little
said. "All the teams left are going to be really tough games. We can't even look ahead one period let alone a game. We've got to just go period-to-period for the rest of the season."
After losing six in a row last month, the Thrashers rebounded just in time to save their postseason hopes. They are 6-2-1 in their last nine to move into ninth place in the East, but all three losses were at home and two were to potential lottery teams Carolina and Toronto.
Now Atlanta must topple three of the League's elite clubs if the Thrashers are going to make the postseason for the second time in franchise history.
"I think it could be a better thing, actually," defenseman Johnny Oduya
said. "We had a stretch of a couple games at home where maybe we thought the games looked easier and we should have won and we didn't. Every time we go on the road we seem to play better. I'm not too worried about that -- I think we have just as good of a chance to beat a top-ranked team as a lower-ranked team this year. Maybe we will catch a team sleeping."
"Everyone in this dressing room knows how hard it is going to be. All the teams left are going to be really tough games. We can't even look ahead one period let alone a game. We've got to just go period-to-period for the rest of the season." -- Bryan Little
The odds are not great for the Thrashers thanks to the brutal finish and because both Philadelphia and Boston have a game in hand. But being counted out is not anything new to this team.
When Atlanta dealt franchise player Ilya Kovalchuk
to New Jersey for a package that included Oduya, it was easy to write off the Thrashers as an organization playing for the future. The six-game skid that followed the trade reaffirmed those doubters, but a balanced offense, underrated defense corps and solid goaltending have rescued the city's hope for postseason hockey.
"I don't think anyone picked us to be in the playoffs at the start of the season either and I am sure people have their doubts now," Little said. "It would be really nice to prove a bunch of people wrong and make it.
"I think we'd like to be in a better position with these five games left than we are now, but right now we really can't depend on what other teams are going to do. We're going to have to win almost all these games left."
Kubina out -- Pavel Kubina
will not play for the Thrashers because of an upper-body injury. Chris Chelios
will replace him. Anderson said Evander Kane
could return from a broken foot Saturday against Pittsburgh.
Laich back -- Brooks Laich
will return to the lineup for the Capitals after missing four games because a puck hit his face during practice. He will replace Quintin Laing
, who is out with a lower-body injury. Rookie defenseman John Carlson
will the miss the game with an upper-body ailment. He did not play in the final 27 minutes of Washington's loss to Ottawa on Monday.