Thrashers win and get some help in playoff race

If the Thrashers are going to make the playoffs, they will need to beat playoff-caliber teams down the stretch.

They did so Thursday.

The Thrashers earned a 4-3 shootout victory over Philadelphia, the top team in the Eastern Conference, at Philips Arena to keep their postseason hopes alive. Eleven games remain in the regular season, and seven are against teams that began Thursday in playoff position.

Rob Schremp and Blake Wheeler, both acquired last month, scored shootout goals for the huge victory.

The Thrashers (30-29-12, 72 points) jumped to 10th in the conference with the win -- and some help. They are tied with Toronto, four points behind Buffalo, Saturday’s opponent, for the eighth and final playoff spot. Carolina is ninth, two points ahead of the Thrashers. Toronto and New Jersey lost Thursday to help the Thrashers improve their position.

The Thrashers defeated the Flyers in extra time for the second time in six days and are 4-1-1 in their past six games.

“Regulation, overtime, shootout, it doesn’t matter,” Wheeler said. “We just need the two points. It makes the game against Buffalo huge. Now that we took care of business tonight, it makes that game enormous.”

The Thrashers took three one-goal leads and could not hold any. Danny Briere scored his second goal of the game with 1:27 remaining, and with the Flyers goal empty, to tie the game at 3-3 and force overtime.

After Bryan Little missed his shootout attempt, Schremp and Wheeler scored. Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec stopped Mike Richards and Briere.

Schremp said he freelanced his attempt.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have a plan,” said Schremp, who the team claimed on waivers from the New York Islanders. “I just go in and read off the goalie. I literally don’t know what I did. I just made a move, and that was what was open.”

Wheeler took a different approach.

“I’ve pretty much done the same move my last 20-something attempts,” said Wheeler, acquired in a trade with Boston. “I have to show a little different look every once in a while, throw a little curve ball at them. These days with video, goalies know the tendencies pretty well. I’ve been working on that move a lot in practice.”

Both moves paid off.

Nik Antropov scored his 13th goal of the season with 2:08 remaining in the second period to give the Thrashers a 3-2 lead. He fired a wrist shot past Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher on a pass from Chris Thorburn. The lead lasted until 87 seconds remained.

Antropov's go-ahead goal came 3:22 after the Flyers tied the game at 2-2 on a fluky goal from Briere. Pavelec went behind his net and cleared a puck along the boards. It bounced off the Flyers’ Jeff Carter and back toward the net, where Briere jammed it into the net before Pavelec could fully recover.

Little gave the Thrashers a 2-1 lead 4:35 into the second period when he knocked home the rebound of a Ron Hainsey shot. It was Little’s first goal in 17 games for a snake-bit player who has hit more iron than a blacksmith in recent weeks.

“It kind of matches our team,” Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. “He’s played much better than his goal total would indicate. He’s been a strong, strong performer for us night in and night out. I haven’t seen anybody else hit as many goal posts and it not go in.”

The Thrashers opened the scoring with a four-on-four goal from Tim Stapleton 6:59 into the first period. Evander Kane assisted for a three-game point streak (one goal, three assists). The Flyers answered 2:21 later on a goal by Claude Giroux.

Next up is a trip to Buffalo and a game with major implications in the playoff race.

“I always tell you I don’t look that far ahead, but you can’t help but not know where we are,” Ramsay said. “Our feeling is we want to win. We need to win every game. We are going into that with that mindset.”