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Although they fell flat in their most important game of the season, missing out on a chance to move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Thrashers still have realistic hopes of earning the second postseason berth in franchise history.

They also have a favorable schedule for their next four games, and they'll try to begin making up some ground as they host the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

The Thrashers (32-30-11) had won four straight to move within a point of eighth-place Boston, just in time for the Bruins' trip to Atlanta on Tuesday night.

But instead of leapfrogging the Bruins, the Thrashers were humbled by a 4-0 defeat.

"We looked very nervous with the puck," coach John Anderson said. "In the two years that I've been here, this is probably one of the most meaningful games we've played. We weren't doing things like we normally do, like we have in the past four or five games."

At times, even being in the playoff conversation has seemed unlikely for Atlanta, which traded leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk last month and lost six straight March 6-14. The Thrashers' only postseason appearance was in 2007, when they were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.

They scored 18 goals during their recent four-game winning streak, led by four each from Nik Antropov and Colby Armstrong. That offense was not present against the Bruins, as Armstrong missed on a penalty shot and Atlanta was blanked for the fourth time.

"It is very disappointing for us," goalie Johan Hedberg said. "They beat us at every situation. They beat us at faceoffs, goaltending, loose pucks. They beat us all over the ice."

The Thrashers are three points back of Boston and within striking distance of Philadelphia and Montreal.

Atlanta's next four games are against also-rans, including a home-and-home series with Carolina and a trip to Toronto on Tuesday. The Thrashers then close with five games against the East's top contenders, including two each against Washington and Pittsburgh.

Even after winning six of seven before Tuesday's game against Florida, the Maple Leafs (26-35-12) remain at the bottom of the conference.

They lost 4-1 at home to the Panthers, putting 43 shots on goal but getting only Fredrik Sjostrom's third-period score.

"We had some good moments in this game, for sure, but we also had a few lapses and kind of gave them their goals," Sjostrom said. "It was a little step back for us. We've been playing good in the previous games, so it's definitely a tough loss for us."

The Leafs are 4-15-3 in their last 22 on the road, falling 4-3 to the Thrashers on Jan. 19. Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec made 37 saves in that game after allowing five goals on 22 shots in a 5-2 loss at Toronto on Dec. 7.

Jonas Gustavsson appears due to start in the Leafs' goalie rotation. The rookie, who is 5-0-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average in his last five starts, has never faced Atlanta.

Tagged: Bruins, Maple Leafs, Jets, Fredrik Sjostrom, Colby Armstrong

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