April 2, 2011

Bruins officially dash playoff hopes of old friends Ramsay, Wheeler

Blake Wheeler now has 13 points in his first 19 games with the Thrashers. (Getty)

BOSTON -- At the conclusion of their game against the Penguins on Apr. 10, there won't be any more hockey to look forward to for the Thrashers this season.

Atlanta will be on the outside of the playoffs looking in for the 10th time in their 11 years in existence, a fate they didn't seem destined for at the onset of the campaign.

Craig Ramsay, an associate coach under Claude Julien in Boston for the previous three seasons, guided the young Thrashers to the top spot in the Southeast Division out of the gate. But, with a rash of injuries and inconsistent play, Atlanta soon stumbled into their familiar spot outside of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

"It is pretty devastating," Ramsay said, as the Thrashers were officially eliminated from postseason contention with their 3-2 loss to the Bruins on Saturday. "Especially to lose a game that we played a pretty good game. Played a great third period. It is disheartening."

Thrashers winger Blake Wheeler thought he was playoff-bound before being dealt away by Boston in February, along with defenseman Mark Stuart. The former U. of Minnesota star's experience of returning to TD Garden in different duds was certainly a surreal one.

"I knew it was going to be a fun atmosphere and a fun game," said Wheeler. "Would have loved to have come in here and beat these guys but they are a good team and they have a real shot this year."

In fact, he initially feared making the mistake of heading in the direction of the home team's bench.

"I actually thought about that before the game," Wheeler said. "What would happen if I hopped on the wrong bench?  Luckily enough I stayed on the right side."

Wheeler has had a wealth of success personally in Atlanta, as he now five goals and eight assists in 19 contests for the Thrashers.

But after playing solid hockey over the last month, following a deep slide down the standings, both he and the Thrashers now must turn their attention to next year.

"A loss is a loss," Wheeler said. "I think we have been playing well for the most part here for a majority of the time. At the end of the day a loss is the same no matter how well you play.  I think we know what we are capable of. We know we are close. The difference between the teams that are going to be playing a couple weeks from now and maybe us is you have to close out games."

After two-plus seasons in Boston, deciding on which team to root for come playoff time will be a no-brainer for the 6-foot-5 forward.

"Yeah it was, I wasn’t expecting it but you’re skating on the other end and you see the black jerseys," Wheeler said when asked if it was strange being a member of the opposition at the Garden. "It brought back a lot of good memories. I have a lot of good friends on that team. I will certainly be rooting for them."