Atlanta Spirit hopes to avoid moving Thrashers in sale, still speaking with two interested parties

When we last checked in on the Atlanta Thrashers sale situation, a heightened “sense of urgency” from owners The Atlanta Spirit spurred conversations with three potential owners hoping to keep the team in Georgia. In many ways, the Thrashers sale has slipped under the radar – and been put on hold – because of the Phoenix Coyotes’ conundrum. Yet much like the Coyotes, the Thrashers must face the very real possibility of relocation.

That’s not to say that relocation is an absolute certainty, though. The Canadian Press passes along word that Thrashers owners continue to discuss the possibility of selling the team only to people who would keep the franchise in Atlanta.

While the number of groups decreased from three to two, the notion that there’s at least some activity provides a slight reason for optimism for Atlanta-area hockey fans. Despite the fact that the Atlanta Spirit are encumbered by the fact that they own two struggling professional sports franchises – they also run the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks – negotiations have only involved the Thrashers, so the deal shouldn’t be excessively complicated.

That being said, having some unnamed interested parties dipping their toes in the water is one thing, but getting a deal done is a whole other ballgame. Especially regarding a team that still draws only tepid attention from sports fans, as the Thrashers boast the third-worst attendance averages in the NHL (according to the Canadian Press).

Ownership group member Michael Gearon, Jr. had an interesting response when he was asked when the group might give up on its goal of selling only to an owner who would keep the team in Atlanta.

Asked last month when he might give up on finding a new ownership for the Thrashers to remain in Atlanta and turn his search to those wishing to move the team, Gearon said “That’s a Gary Bettman question.”

Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has said he wants the team to remain in Atlanta. Bettman said last month any problems with the Thrashers “ultimately will have to be dealt with.”

Gearon and Levenson have said they are willing to retain minority shares of the Thrashers or sell all their interests in the team.

When it comes to the fate of both the Thrashers and Coyotes franchises, it all really might come down to how Bettman answers such questions. The NHL keeps delaying such choices – with reason – but eventually they will have to bite the bullet and make a decision that will have a large impact on the makeup of the league.

Bolts close gap on struggling Bruins in playoff race

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Well, that was quite a third period.

For the Boston Bruins, it was disastrous. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it propelled them to a critical victory in the playoff race.

Nikita Kucherov completed the hat trick with a pair of goals in the final period and Jonathan Drouin scored what would eventually be the winner, as Tampa Bay snapped its own three-game losing streak in a 6-3 victory, putting the Bolts within three points of the final wild card spot — held by the Bruins — in the Eastern Conference.

The Drouin goal — his 18th of the season but first since Feb. 19, a span of 13 games — is probably one Tuukka Rask would like back.

Drouin teed up the slap shot from the faceoff circle, beating Rask under the left arm.

And just like that, the Bruins have lost four consecutive games. On Saturday, they face the New York Islanders, another team looking to catch Boston in the wild card race.

Read more: Remember this stretch if Bruins settle for a wild card spot (or worse?)

The Islanders are only two points back of Boston.

Despite the win, there was bad news for the Lightning during this game, as defenseman Jason Garrison left with an injury.

From NHL.com:

The play occurred behind the Lightning goal, Garrison appearing to get his left leg rolled up from behind by a Bruin. Garrison had to be helped off the ice by Anton Stralman and Brayden Point and headed back to the Bolts’ locker room.

The team announced during the second intermission that Garrison sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game.

Video: Ovechkin rocks custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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As promised, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin rocked a pair of custom skates in honor of Russian Heritage Night on Thursday.

On his right skate, he paid tribute to the United States with a custom design, and paid tribute to his home nation on his left skate while taking the pre-game warm-up prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He’ll be auctioning off the skates, as well.

From CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The skates were painted by noted custom shoe artists Nick Avery and Polo Kerber, whom Ovechkin personally selected. The skates feature the U.S. and Russia flags as well as the Capitol Building and Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Video: Crosby slash leaves Methot’s finger bloodied and injured (Updated)

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Sidney Crosby has made news lately for his goal scoring and his use of the stick.

He speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt the other night, and on Thursday he delivered a slash to Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who has since not returned to the game.

The slash rendered a finger on Methot’s left hand bloodied and injured. It certainly didn’t look good as Method (calmly) skated to the bench.

There was no call on the play.

Updated: Methot won’t return to this game.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.