Thrashers fall flat in biggest game of season

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Thrashers had a chance to get back in the thick of the playoff race.

It was gone in less than a period.

Buffalo scored three first-period goals en route to an 8-2 victory over the Thrashers on Saturday night at HSBC Arena. The Thrashers’ chance to pull within two points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference also was lost.

The Thrashers (30-30-12, 72 points) fell to 11th in the Eastern Conference and are now six points behind Buffalo (35-28-8, 78 points) for the eighth and final playoff spot. Toronto pulled ahead of the Thrashers with a victory over Boston on Saturday and has 74 points. Idle Carolina is ninth with 76 points.

With 10 games remaining in the regular season the Thrashers took a giant step backward. It came after a giant step forward with Thursday’s win over Philadelphia that set up Saturday’s showdown with the Sabres.

“I have to watch exactly what I say here because a game of that magnitude to come out and play the way we did is completely unacceptable in my mind,” said goaltender Chris Mason, who relieved starter Ondrej Pavelec to start the second period.

“I really can’t believe it. It’s disheartening to have a game like that and not be willing to pay the price and do the things you need to do to win, understand the magnitude of this game and the playoff implications. That was a terrible game.”

Buffalo opened the scoring 24 seconds into game on a goal by Jason Pominville.

However, the Thrashers dug themselves out of that early hole with Chris Thorburn’s goal at the 8:06 mark. Thorburn put a shot on goal after a faceoff that hit Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller’s stick and bounced over his right shoulder. The play was ruled a goal and upheld after a video replay.

The Thrashers appeared to catch the break that went against them in New Jersey earlier in the week when they had a goal disallowed after video replay. However, 47 seconds after the game-tying goal, Anthony Stewart was called for holding. A mere 59 seconds later, Andrew Ladd was got a double-minor for high-sticking.

The Thrashers killed 1:01 of the Sabres’ 5-on-3 power play, but with 1:57 left in Ladd’s infraction, Mark Mancari scored his first goal of the season for a 2-1 lead.

Rob Niedermayer tipped a point shot past Pavelec with 4:59 left in the opening period, and it was too much for the Thrashers to overcome.

Evander Kane failed on penalty shot after the Thrashers tied the game. The puck rolled off his stick as he closed in on Miller, who is now 11-1 all-time on penalty shots.

The Sabres have outscored the Thrashers 7-1 in the first period this season.

“I was very disappointed with our forwards for sure and their complete unwillingness to try to block a shot,” Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. “And our defense let two goals come out the short side, which we’ve talked about all year. Twenty-four seconds into the game they go out the short side and get us off to a start like that.

"We didn’t really compete. It shows up when players are trying to get out of the way of a shot instead of into the way of a shot. That kinds of says it all."

Alexander Burmistrov brought the Thrashers to within a goal 4:44 into the second period as he beat Miller with a wrist shot. It was the first goal for the rookie in 34 games, since Dec. 11.

The Sabres quickly ended the comeback. Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis scored 1:50 apart later in the period. The goals marked the 22nd time this season the Thrashers have allowed an opponent back-to-back goals in less than two minutes. The previous time occurred in the Feb. 23 meeting with the Sabres. It would be 23 times by the end of the game.

Gerbe jammed at the puck seven times as Mason had it stopped with his left pad before it slipped in just as the net lifted off its moorings. Mason said a Sabre lifted his pad off the ice to allow the puck to slip through.

With the Buffalo crowd chanting ‘1-2-3-4-5; we want 6′ Brad Boyes delivered with a third-period power-play goal. Niedermayer scored the seventh goal with 3:08 to play. Twenty-eight seconds later, Tim Connolly added the final goal.