Hours before the NHL's trading deadline expired, Rob Schremp found himself an ex-New York Islander after being claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers
On Thursday, he scored a key shootout goal to help lift the Thrashers to a 4-3 win on Thursday at Philips Arena over Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia that pulled Atlanta within four points of a playoff spot.
After Atlanta's Bryan Little was stopped by Flyers goalie Brian Boucher and Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec stopped Mike Richards, Schremp entered slowly and put a high wrist shot from close range past Boucher. Pavelec then forced Danny Briere - who forced overtime with a tying goal with 88 seconds left in regulation - to miss high with a wrist shot. Blake Wheeler then scored to win it for Atlanta.
Wheeler almost lost control of the puck and then scored from a wide angle, depriving Philadelphia of its third try.
"It feels good," said Schremp, who plays a fourth-line role in Atlanta and has one goal in eight games in limited ice time, though he does get some power-play time. "Obviously, to achieve that goal of making the playoffs would be huge, to be a part of it and helping pick up a point like that and going from waivers, obviously, things like that help you settle into the team and earn the respect of your teammates a little bit."
The Thrashers have struggled in the shootout this season -- even with the win, they're still 4-7. It's no accident that both of their scorers in the shootout on Thursday were not on the team a month ago -- Wheeler was acquired in a trade from Boston.
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay - celebrating his 60th birthday on Thursday - said he trusted in Schremp because he's "really pretty nifty."
The Thrashers had gone through a 1-6-1 streak starting in February into the early part of this month, but are now 4-1-1 in their last six with their only losses coming to red-hot New Jersey. Atlanta is in 10th, two points behind Southeast Division rival Carolina and four behind eighth-place Buffalo. Atlanta travels to Buffalo on Saturday for a game with huge implications.
Ramsay always talks about trying not to look ahead or to look at the standings, but admitted after the game that would be hard to avoid.
"You can't help but not know where we are," he said. "We want to win every game."
For a while on Thursday, it seemed the Flyers might ruin the Thrashers' party. Philadelphia rallied from three one-goal deficits, sending the game into overtime on Briere's second goal of the game and 31st of the season with 1:28 remaining in regulation. Boucher was pulled for an extra attacker and Briere hacked at a rebound in the crease to put it in.
Pavelec was furious that the Thrashers had allowed the Flyers to tie the game, slamming his water bottle down after the goal.
"Absolutely, I was just angry that they tie the game in the last minute, it's always disappointing and it doesn't matter how they score," Pavelec said. "We battle so hard and that's why I was disappointed. I thought maybe we were a little better team than them and I think we deserved to win. Another tight game and we finally find a way to win, so a huge win for us."
Despite their record in the last six games, the Thrashers have been a high-wire act - blowing a lead in five of those games. The only one in which they did not was Saturday's dramatic 5-4 overtime win over these same Flyers -- a game in which Philadelphia blew a 3-0 lead after two periods at the Wells Fargo Center and Atlanta forced overtime by scoring with an extra attacker.
Entering the third period, Atlanta led 3-2. Nik Antropov converted Chris Thorburn's feed from behind the net into a quick wrist shot from the slot over the glove hand of Boucher with 2:08 left in the second period to put Atlanta ahead for the third time.
The Thrashers scored the game's first goal at 6:59 of the first period at 4-on-4 after Daniel Carcillo and Thorburn earned unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Pavelec made a glove save on Braydon Coburn's breakaway backhander, and moments later Atlanta's Evander Kane fed Tim Stapleton who streaked down the right wing, beating Boucher with a low wrist shot to the far post after getting the goaltender to commit to the short side. Stapleton, promoted to a second-line role, has 3 goals in five games.
Philadelphia tied the game little more than three minutes later with some nice passing in their offensive zone. Matt Carle, Briere and Claude Giroux worked a 3-on-2, with Giroux, left open by a missed defensive coverage, scoring from in close.
Little, who has done everything but put the puck in the net during the past five weeks, scored for the first time in 17 games to make it 2-1. Boucher left a juicy rebound of Ron Hainsey's steep-angle shot from the right side and Little collected it, skated around Boucher and lifted a backhander high into the net at 4:35 of the second. Little, a former 31-goal scorer, looked high above him, as if a large weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He has 11 assists in the last 17 games and hit innumerable posts.
Ramsay said Little's performance has mirrored the team's -- good play without much to show for it.
"I haven't seen anyone hit as many posts," Ramsay said of Little.
Atlanta gave the Flyers an easy one to tie it at 2-2 with 5:30 left in the second. Pavelec went behind the net and played the puck into the corner where two of his teammates were. But Philadelphia's Jeff Carter got to the puck first, sending it back to Briere behind the net and Briere slipped in his 30th goal before Pavelec could get back in his crease.
After a four-game losing streak, the Flyers are 3-0-2, enough to keep them two points in front of Washington for first place in the East. The Flyers played disinterestedly at times, as they had only 11 shots through two periods and six through the first 27 minutes.
"There's no excuse for it," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We need to be playing 60 minutes."