Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Boucher (33) blocks a shot from Atlanta Thrashers center Bryan Little (10) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 17, 2011 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA - The Atlanta Thrashers are suddenly feeling a lot better about their playoff chances.
After squandering three leads in regulation, the Thrashers bounced back for a crucial win in the shootout, getting goals from Rob Schremp and Blake Wheeler to beat Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 4-3 Thursday night—their second win over the Flyers in less than a week.
The Thrashers closed within four points of eighth-place Buffalo for the final playoff spot in the East. They'll face the Sabres on Saturday having won four of six, all in overtime or the shootout.
"That's the game of the year," Atlanta defenceman Ron Hainsey said.
Danny Briere scored two goals for the Flyers, including the tying goal with 1:17 left in regulation.
Ondrej Pavelec made up for a botched play behind the net, which gave Philadelphia an easy goal in the second period, by stopping Mike Richards in the opening round of the shootout. Briere missed the net in the second round, and Wheeler clinched it for the Thrashers.
"Of course, I think I should be better," Pavelec said. "But we still found a way to win."
Trailing 3-2, the Flyers turned on the pressure in the closing minutes.
It paid off when Ville Leino flipped a shot toward the net. Pavelec made the initial save, but Briere gobbled up the loose puck and put it just past the goalie's outstretched glove, even as Hainsey planted the Flyers star face-first into the ice on his 31st goal.
Pavelec threw his water bottle against the boards in frustration.
"We are pumped to get the two points because it makes the two points in Buffalo on Saturday huge," Wheeler said. "Anything less than two points and it would have been a much tougher road."
The game was back and forth all night. Tim Stapleton, Bryan Little and Nik Antropov scored for the Thrashers. Claude Giroux had Philadelphia's other goal, his 23rd.
"It probably wasn't our best piece of work," Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher said. "But I think the fact we got a point is something to be happy about."
Atlanta jumped ahead during 4-on-4 play in the first period on a shot that Boucher wished he could have back. Stapleton swept in off right wing and shot off a bad angle, the puck slipping under Boucher's pads as he slid across the crease, apparently anticipating a pass.
Philadelphia tied it before the period was done on a nifty bit of passing. Briere took the puck into the Thrashers zone along the boards, then ripped a pass to the middle of the ice for Andrej Meszaros pinching in from the blue line. The defenceman gave it right back to Giroux breaking in, and he beat Pavelec with a shot that trickled just inside the post.
Back came the Thrashers early in the second. Hainsey got off a blistering shot from the point, and Boucher made the save with his left pad. But he couldn't control the rebound, which was scooped up by Little and flipped over the flailing goalie.
Again, the Flyers tied it, taking advantage of a botched play behind the net by Pavelec. He came out of his crease to cut off the puck along the boards, and flicked it ahead to teammate Zach Bogosian. Only one problem: the young defenceman wasn't expecting it.
Jeff Carter scooped it up and passed in front to Briere, who buried his first goal with Pavelec all turned around and not knowing who had the puck.
Atlanta shook off that misplay to reclaim the lead again late in the second, this time when the Flyers inexplicably left Chris Thorburn all alone behind their own net. He tried to pass it to Radek Dvorak, who couldn't handle the puck. Not to worry—it went right to Antropov, who beat Boucher with a screened shot for his 13th goal.
Boucher wonders why the Thrashers are fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
"It's interesting to me that they're in this predicament," he said. "With their lineup, they should be higher in the standings."
Notes: Atlanta D Mark Stuart squared off with Philadelphia tough guy Daniel Carcillo early in the second period. Stuart got in some good rights to the side of Carcillo's head, before Carcillo countered with a punch that sent Stuart to the ice. ... Meszaros hobbled off after getting struck by a shot from the point with about 8 1/2 minutes remaining. He quickly returned to finish out the game.