Originally created 11/15/02

Get this: Thrashers on a winning streak



ATLANTA -- Atlanta Thrashers coach Curt Fraser seemed on the verge of getting fired a few days ago.

Now he gets to chat about a winning streak.

The Thrashers - yes, the Thrashers - have won three games in a row. While that would be a modest sign of success for most teams, it's downright monumental for a 4-year-old franchise that is still struggling to escape its expansion roots.

"Winning cures a lot of ills," Fraser said, standing outside the locker room at Philips Arena. "We're enjoying ourselves when we get to the building. We're having some fun."

This is only the second time the Thrashers have managed to win as many as three straight games. They also did it in December 2000, when the team got off a promising start in Year 2. Since then, the victories have been few and far between.

When Atlanta began this season with a nine-game losing streak, the questions about Fraser's job security centered mostly on when, not if, he would get a pink slip.

But the team rallied around the only coach it's ever had, going 4-1-1 over the last six games to abandon the NHL cellar. That ignominious distinction now belongs to Buffalo, which dropped one point behind the Thrashers (10-9).

Atlanta's confidence is soaring as it prepares for Friday night's home game against the Phoenix Coyotes with a chance to set a franchise standard for consecutive wins.

"Yeah, I think we have this thing turned around now," said goaltender Pasi Nurminen, who has all four wins since taking over for struggling Milan Hnilicka. "It's been a different team the past few games."

What's made the difference?

Nurminen certainly deserves plenty of credit. The Finnish goalie has started all six games during the recent surge, posting a 2.44 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

"Our goaltending is a lot better," Fraser said. "Pasi has really stepped up. You can't win in this league without good goaltending."

Nurminen also is getting more help from the guys in front of him. In a 3-2 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, the Thrashers controlled the flow much of the game and wound up with a 33-24 edge in shots.

Over the last six games, Atlanta has given up an average of 28.5 shots - a significant drop from the 34.1 average in the first nine contests.

"The guys are working more as a team out there," Fraser said. "Every game, we're getting a little better."

Figuring he had little to lose, Fraser cracked down on his team as the losses mounted.

He benched Ilya Kovalchuk for one game when the rising star kept ignoring his defensive responsibilities. In the only loss of this recent surge - 5-0 at Chicago - Fraser changed goalies after virtually every goal, hoping to send a message.

But the coach also stresses that his players held up remarkably well during those tough times. Six of the first nine losses were by one goal, so there was reason for hope.

"Everyone knew we were better than our record," Fraser said. "I have to give the guys a lot of credit. The way we started was hard, but the guys never lost faith for a second. Our leaders were very good in the locker room, and the guys stayed with it. They get full marks for that. It easily could have gone the other way."

The Thrashers still have a long way to go, of course. Six games does not make a season, and no one is talking about the playoffs just yet. But the next four games are at home, giving Atlanta a chance to build on its winning ways.

Just to make sure, Fraser will continue to call Florida boat dealers before each game.

Huh?

"When we were in Florida, there was a boat show across the street, so I went to it," Fraser explained. "We won that night (for Atlanta's first victory of the season). So, when we came back home, I had to call a guy at a boat dealership. We won again."

The superstition has remained intact.

"It's silly," Fraser said. "But you've got to do anything you can to win."