0

Playoff hopes fade for Thrashers

ATLANTA - Marian Hossa is gone and so are the Atlanta Thrashers' playoff hopes.

The team has 17 games remaining, but little to play for - just like in their early expansion years.

It took Atlanta seven seasons to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. A year after being swept by the New York Rangers in the first round, the Thrashers are almost back to where they started.

The Thrashers lost their fifth straight game, falling 5-4 to the New York Islanders on Thursday night as Trent Hunter scored 69 seconds into overtime at Philips Arena.

It was the first home game in more than two weeks and marked the debut of newcomers Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen. But nothing - not even a three-goal comeback and a late tying goal by Bobby Holik - could alter the reality of the team's struggles.

The winning goal came after Thrashers defenseman Ken Klee couldn't control the puck in the corner after a faceoff win. Josef Vasicek stole the puck and fed Hunter in front of the net.

"It went from our puck to a turnover and bang," Klee said. "It was my fault."

"Five goals again, that's terrible," Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen said.

But they were hardly all his fault. The Islanders (31-27-7) led 2-0 before the Thrashers had their second shot, with turnovers leading to first-period goals by Mike Comrie and Vasicek.

Armstrong and Christensen - acquired in the deadline deal Tuesday that sent Hossa to Pittsburgh - were cheered when their names were announced, and both had some good moments.

But the Thrashers again made mistake after mistake as they fell to 29-31-5.

"It's an adjustment going from a team fighting for first place," said Armstrong, who had an assist in his first game. "But this team is fighting for wins, too.

The Thrashers aren't getting them, however.

Armstrong had a big hit early in the second period, but the Islanders beat the Thrashers back down the ice for a goal by Andy Hilbert and a 3-0 lead just 62 seconds into the middle stanza.

Eric Perrin, who moved to left wing in joining center Christensen and right wing Armstrong on the second line, beat Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro on a penalty shot less than three minutes later, however, and the momentum switched. It was Perrin's first career penalty shot goal for Perrin, who was dragged down by Bryan Berard while the Islanders were on a power play.

Klee blasted in his first goal of the season on a pass from Armstrong with 13:46 gone in the second period and fellow veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik tied the game on a hard one-timer with five minutes left in the stanza.

Comrie put the Islanders back ahead with his second goal of the game and 20th of the season early in the third period.

But Holik, the Thrashers captain, forced overtime when he scored with 1:22 left in regulation.

The Thrashers had been 6-0 in overtime to the Islanders' 4-5. But Atlanta is no longer perfect in the one area that it was.

Hossa's first game with Pittsburgh didn't go well, either. He sprained a knee in the Penguins' 5-1 loss to Boston.

Christensen won 10 of 17 faceoffs, but his last one in overtime led to nothing good.

"We had some breakdowns in front of the net leaving guys all alone and it's something we have to keep working on," coach and general manager Don Waddell said.

Like Armstrong, Christensen is trying to adjust to a new team and a new situation.

"This is a chance for me to get more of an opportunity," Christensen said.

But the rest of the season will just be playing out the string for the Thrashers, his new team.