Could Sunday’s game against the Penguins be the Thrashers’ last one in Atlanta?

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Even after being eliminated from playoff contention, the Atlanta Thrashers were given the chance to make an indirect impact on the postseason by playing against the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, two East bubble teams that were desperate for points. While there won’t be any immediate drama in their season-ending Sunday game against the Pittsburgh Penguins since the playoff seeding has already been determined, the game could have special meaning for Atlanta anyway.

The reason is simple: it might just be the last game the Thrashers will play in Atlanta.

About 30 years after the Atlanta Flames ditched Georgia to become the Calgary Flames for the 1980-81 season, Chris Vivlamore wonders if the Thrashers could face a similar fate.

In case you haven’t been following the NHL’s many ownership sagas, the two biggest (or at least most immediate) crises involve the situations faced by the Thrashers and the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes’ “Will they stay or go” soap opera keeps spinning with odd twists and convoluted schemes to keep the team from relocating, with the situation looking murky at best.

Meanwhile, the Thrashers’ own fate hangs in the balance, as the Coyotes’ most likely relocation target would be its former host city in Winnipeg. Vivlamore reasonably discusses the fact that the Thrashers’ own leverage — and likelihood for relocation — will increase if the Coyotes stay put.

Either way, there are also options in cities such as Quebec, Kansas City and more.

Yet much like the situation in Phoenix, the Atlanta Spirit ownership group would prefer to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta if possible. Along with owning the Thrashers, the Atlanta Spirit also owns the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena (the home for both teams). Logically enough, Vivlamore explains that many interested parties discussed the idea of acquiring all three assets.

Before and after the statements, several entities, groups and individuals expressed interest in buying all three properties from the Atlanta Spirit: the Thrashers, Hawks and Philips Arena. One potential buyer has met with officials from the NHL and NBA. Some have expressed interest in only the Thrashers. Some have inquired about buying just the Hawks and the arena. There have been non-disclosure agreements signed between the interested entities and the investment company, the Raine Group, hired by the Spirit to search for potential buyers or investors.

However, there have been no serious negotiations beyond that preliminary step to date.

“Nothing is imminent,” co-owner Bruce Levenson told the AJC on Friday. “We continue to be involved in the process of sharing information with potential buyers about their interest in Atlanta. It is an ongoing process.”

Several people familiar with the situation confirmed that the process has not moved past that stage. There is a big difference between expressing interest and having the financial ability to reach an agreement. The possibility of the sale of all three properties, the most likely scenario for the Thrashers to remain in Atlanta, has been described as “one in a million” and “one percent.”

(Cue Jim Carrey’s “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” from “Dumb & Dumber” if you would like.)

Overall, there seems to be just as much doom and gloom surrounding the Thrashers’ chances of staying in Atlanta as there is with the Coyotes in Phoenix, but it’s important to note that the timeline might be a little fuzzier. It’s quite possible that the Atlanta Spirit won’t be happy with a limited window to negotiate since the Coyotes situation clouds the picture, thus creating a potential “lame duck” season in 2011-12.

There’s also the chance — albeit limited — that the team might just stay in Atlanta.

Obviously, at this point, it’s too early to say. We’ll keep you up to date about their ownership situations progress (or stalls) as next season approaches.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?