Ottawa Senators defenseman Brian Lee (5) protects the puck from Atlanta Thrashers center Ben Maxwell during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 27, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
ATLANTA - Thrashers goaltender Chris Mason knows his team has no margin for error with the playoffs still far out of sight.
"We have put ourselves in a terrible position," he said. "If we have any hope at all, we basically need to win every game and get some help along the way."
Blake Wheeler and Ben Maxwell each had a goal and an assist, Andrew Ladd scored the deciding shootout goal and the Atlanta stayed on the fringe of the playoff race with a 5-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
Wheeler scored his 16th, Bryan Little his 17th, Mark Stuart his second and Maxwell his first career goal for Atlanta (32-31-12).
Marek Svatos had his third and fourth goals, Chris Neil his sixth and Erik Condra his sixth for Ottawa (29-37-10).
The Thrashers have won two of three, but they are mathematically alive for a post-season spot. With 76 points—nine behind Buffalo for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot—11th-place Atlanta also trails Carolina and Toronto in the standings.
"We're trying to build something, not just for this year, but for the long term," said Ladd, the Thrashers' captain. "We'll just keep playing hard and see what happens."
Ottawa, which is last in the Eastern Conference and was eliminated from playoff contention on Friday, had won two straight and four of five.
Ladd, the fourth and final Atlanta skater in the shootout, had the only goal. Senators goalie Craig Anderson stopped Rob Schremp, Little and Wheeler before Ladd beat him stick side.
"I just wanted to come in and shoot hard, see what was open," Ladd said. "I went backhand, then forehand and it went in. It's nice, but we shouldn't have put ourselves in that position."
Anderson, who stopped 43 of 47 shots, ended an eight-game winning streak in shootouts that dated to December 2009 with Colorado.
"The law of averages is going to even things out," Anderson said. "I lost eight in a row when I was in Florida. My job is to weather the storm."
After Wheeler's tip-in made it 1-0 early in the first period, he started a rush with a takeaway in the Atlanta zone 10:15 into the second. Wheeler passed from the right circle under defenceman's Filip Kuba's stick for Little, whose wrister beat Anderson glove side.
"We just turned the puck over too many times," Senators coach Cory Clouston said. "They are a team that thrives on turnovers. They have a defensive unit that jumps up on the rush better than a lot of teams."
Nineteen seconds after Little scored, Wheeler controlled Dustin Byfuglien's missed shot off the wall and beat Anderson from the left circle.
Neil cut the lead to 3-2 at the 13:37 mark of the second by controlling the puck against defenceman Zach Bogosian against the rear boards and beating Mason outside the left crease.
With 17:52 left in regulation, Atlanta led 4-2 on Stuart's tip-in, but Condra made it 4-3 at the 12:48 mark and Svatos tied it with a tip-in 7:40 later.
"It was a tough game," Svatos said. "We could have played a lot better. We had too many turnovers."
NOTES: Anderson knew why skaters looked so sluggish in the third period and in overtime. "It was bad ice, but it was the same for both teams," he said. ... Jason Spezza assisted on Condra's goal and has 12 points in last nine games, including eight assists. ... Anderson dropped to 8-5-0 in 13 games since his trade last month from the Avalanche. He stopped 42 shots in a 3-1 road win over Atlanta on March 3. ... RW Daniel Alfredsson (back) is with the team on the three-game road trip, but Clouston said he will not play. ... D Sergei Gonchar (concussion) did not make the trip.