18,545 screaming fans filled Phillips Arena on January 5th, 2007 to see the Atlanta Thrashers take on the Phoenix Coyotes in a game that was a taut, back and forth battle down the stretch.
Marian Hossa scored two goals, and the Blueland Baddies (I'm trying to come up with a pet name for the Thrashers, so bear with me if these are horrible) had a 4-1 lead early in the third period. Then, in the blink of an eye, Ladislav Nagy scored for Phoenix a minute later to make it 4-2.
Later in the period, Shane Doan knocked in a power play goal, and less than three minutes later, Owen Nolan banged home the tying goal, and the air was sucked out of the building.
When Yanic Perrault scored a goal in overtime to win the game for the Coyotes, it was almost anti-climactic. The damage had already been done when the fans had been taken out of the contest with the third period barrage by the Desert Dogs.
I watched this game on television (a benefit of being in Arizona for that week), and it was almost palpable how the momentum the Thrashers had built up was completely reversed like the engines on the Titanic before it hit that ill-fated iceberg.
Why do I bring up this game? While it serves as a nice and tidy recap of the last time these teams tangled, but it serves a bigger purpose: it shows how far this team that we all love has fallen in the past two years.
Think about it: this team that lost this heartbreaking game was playing in front of a full building, and they actually made the playoffs in 2007. They still had players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, and Braydon Coburn who caused havoc when they were on the ice.
They were an up and coming franchise, building towards future success in a league that had seen a spate of Sun Belt franchises winning Stanley Cups (Carolina, Dallas, and Tampa Bay come immediately to mind), and all was looking good in Atlanta.
Then, everything started to slowly unravel, and we have now come to this point, with the team being unable to even give away tickets to games, and the morale in Blueland is at an all-time low.
This game represents more to the viewer than meets the eye. It's not just two teams facing off in the midst of unparalleled economic crisis, but it's also a measure of how far the Thrashers have truly fallen in the psyche of the Atlanta sports scene.
Brighter days will hopefully come soon for the Hotlanta Hooligans, but for right now, we are riding through some dark ages.
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