After working their way back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Atlanta Thrashers have squandered several chances to gain more ground in the standings.
Trying to avoid losing for the fourth time in five games, the Thrashers look to avenge last week's loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs when they meet Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
By beating Northeast Division-leading Buffalo, defeating Ottawa and sweeping a home-and-home series against Philadelphia from March 16-21, Atlanta (33-31-12) pulled within one point of Boston for eighth place in the East. The four-game winning streak ended with a disappointing 4-0 home loss to the Bruins last Tuesday, but the Thrashers still seemed to be in good shape with several winnable games ahead on the schedule.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, it's been unable to take advantage and remains two points back of the final playoff spot with six games remaining.
After losing to Boston, the Thrashers lost to East-worst Toronto 2-1 in overtime on Thursday and split a home-and-home series with 11th-place Carolina. Monday's 4-1 home loss to the Hurricanes was especially painful because the Bruins ended up losing on the same night.
"Knowing that Boston lost, it was an opportunity to get even with them points-wise," Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "We just didn't get the job done. We could have won that game."
A major problem for the Thrashers over this past week has been an inconsistent offense. Atlanta scored 18 goals during its winning streak and defeated Carolina 4-0 on Saturday, but it's combined to score just two goals in its last three losses.
"I can't explain how we feel right now, but it's not good," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "I still believe in ourselves. We have to pick ourselves up."
Ondrej Pavelec, who didn't play in either game against Carolina, could get the nod between the pipes in this game after turning aside 28 shots in a solid performance against Toronto in his last start.
The Leafs (28-35-13) might have the conference's worst record, but they've been one of the league's hottest teams over the past three weeks.
Toronto is 8-2-1 since March 9, and it nearly won at Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Leafs led the defending champs 4-3 before allowing a late goal and losing 5-4 in overtime.
"We're playing for each other and we're playing pretty well as a team and we're learning how to win games," said Phil Kessel, who scored his 30th goal Sunday. "We got to keep improving and keep getting better each game and hopefully get some more wins."
Kessel has helped key Toronto's turnaround, scoring eight goals in the last 10 games, including one against the Thrashers last week. Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski got the winner in that game, scoring 39 seconds into overtime.
While Kessel is leading the offense, Jonas Gustavsson is providing stability in goal.
Gustavsson, who got the night off Sunday, has won all seven starts since the All-Star break, posting a 1.93 goals-against average. In Atlanta last week, the rookie stopped 19 of 20 shots in his first career start against the Thrashers.