Thrashers one of five teams fighting for four playoff spots

The Thrashers are one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but that could change Tuesday. The Thrashers host the Bruins, who hold a slim one-point lead for the eighth and final spot.

“It’s a huge, huge game for us,” Thrashers forward Jim Slater said.

The top four teams – Capitals, Penguins, Sabres and Devils – are locks. However, four points is all the separates the five teams vying for the last four postseason berths.

A breakdown of the race:


Record: 37-30-5, 79 points

Current position: Tied for fifth

Games left: 10; Canadiens, Flyers, Sabres (twice), Panthers (twice), Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders, Lightning

What to know: The Senators are reeling. They were 1-7-1, including five straight losses, headed into Monday's game in Montreal. They put themselves in the playoff race with a 14-2-0 stretch, including 11 straight wins, before the slide.

Why they will make it: The return of center and assistant captain Mike Fisher, the second leading scorer, and defenseman Filip Kupa from injury will help. The Senators are still a talented team with Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Kovalev, Matt Cullen and Jason Spezza on the roster.

Why they won't make it: The defense has been an issue, allowing 22 goals in the five straight losses. Kovalev, the team's third leading scorer, has come under pressure for recording no points with a minus-10 rating since the Olympic break.


Record: 37-30-5, 79 points

Current position: Tied for fifth

Games left: 10; Senators, Wild, Penguins, Devils, Islanders, Canadiens, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Rangers (twice)

What to know: The Flyers are down to their third-string goaltender in Brain Boucher after injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton. His backup is a minor-league call-up who has played all of two AHL games.

Why they will make it: The Flyers are a veteran team with Chris Pronger as an anchor. The playoffs are nothing new to them. They've been in the postseason three of the past four years and were conference finalists two seasons ago. They have a head coach in Peter Laviolette who has won a Stanley Cup.

Why they won't make it: Goaltending. At this point in the season, to hand the reigns over to Boucher, who was forced to play back-to-back games against the Thrashers over the weekend, is not a good thing. Also, the Flyers learned Monday that leading scorer Jeff Carter will miss several weeks with a broken foot suffered Sunday.


Record: 36-29-7, 79 points

Current position: Tied for fifth

Games left: 10; Senators, Sabres (twice), Panthers, Devils, Hurricanes (twice), Flyers, Islanders, Maple Leafs

What to know: The Canadiens had a six-game winning streak stopped with a shootout loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Like the Thrashers, a winning streak like that is huge this time of year.

Why they will make it: The Canadiens have been playing their best hockey of the season despite not having leading scorer Michael Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron out with knee injuries. Both are expected to return soon.

Why they won't make it: Ranking 25th in the NHL in shots-on-goal allowed, the Canadiens are playing with fire. Jaroslav Halak is playing strong, with a 2.06 goals-against average during the the wins streak. If he falters, that spells trouble.


Record: 32-27-12, 76 points

Current position: Eighth

Games left: 11; Thrashers, Lightning, Flames, Sabres (twice), Devils, Panthers, Maple Leafs, Panthers, Capitals (twice)

What to know: The Bruins have a bit of an upper hand on the five teams fighting for the final spot with a game in hand, having played 71 games.

Why they will make it: Goaltender Tuukka Rask leads the NHL with a goals-against average of 2.08. He replaced Tim Thomas as the team's No. 1 goalie on Feb. 4. If the rookie can continue with such strong play, it could be enough to push the Bruins over the top.

Why they won't make it: The Bruins are going to be without Marc Savard, who is showing only slight improvement from a Grade 2 concussion. They are 2-4-1 since he suffered the injury. The Bruins have been up-and-down all season. Losing a steadying influence won't help.


Record: 32-29-11, 75 points

Current position: Ninth

Games left: 10; Bruins, Maples Leafs (twice), Hurricanes (twice), Capitals (twice), Penguins (twice), Devils

What to know: The Thrashers are 8-5-3 since trading Ilya Kovalchuk. Niclas Bergfors, the forward acquired in the deal, has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) since the move.

Why they will make it: The Thrashers are playing their best hockey of the season. They are 4-0-1 in the past five games against teams ahead of them in the standings. They are getting solid goaltending and scoring from three lines.

Why they won't make it: The Thrashers will likely need a cushion once they get to April. They play the Capitals (two games in Washington), the Penguins and the Devils in the final week and a half. That's a tall order.

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