ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers got themselves a huge bonus when they signed veteran Maxim Afinogenov.
Afinogenov scored with six seconds remaining in the third period to give the Atlanta Thrashers a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers for their fourth consecutive victory. It was the fifth straight loss for the Panthers.
Afinogenov knocked in a 15-footer for his 11th goal off a pass from Nik Antropov, beating Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen.
“We had a great play first by Nik on the play before and then Max with the touch goal,” said Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg, who is 6-2-0 this season.
Afinogenov, a 10-year veteran, signed as a free agent during the off-season after spending nine years with Buffalo and has already exceeded his scoring output of a year ago.
“He’s been a great surprise for us. It’s like he’s got a new lease on life being here and we’re glad to have him,” said Atlanta coach John Anderson.
In addition to his 11 goals, Afinogenov has 14 assists in 23 games. In 48 games last season, he had only six goals and 14 assists.
Florida Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun was taken off the ice on a stretcher after he was accidentally hit in the head by the stick of teammate Keith Ballard in the opening period.
Vokoun had an ear laceration and was alert when taken by ambulance to a local hospital, a Panthers spokesman said.
The incident occurred after Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal at 8:54 of the first period, knocking in his own rebound. In apparent frustration, Ballard swung his stick at the net, inadvertently striking Vokoun in the head.
After about a 10-minute delay, Vokoun was wheeled off in a stretcher. He was replaced by Clemmensen.
“Vokoun is going to be fine,” Florida coach Peter DeBoer said after the game.
“There was no internal ear damage, just a laceration,” said Panthers general manager Randy Sexton. “They stitched him up, took a catscan and there’s no additional injuries.”
Vokoun was scheduled to fly home with them, he added.
It will be determined Tuesday whether Vakoun will be available for Florida’s next game at home against Colorado on Wednesday, Sexton said.
Ballard was unavailable for comment.
“He’s probably pretty bummed. Nobody feels worse than Keith,” said Sexton
“After something like that, it’s difficult to come back and be completely focused,” said Florida’s Stephen Weiss, who had a goal and an assist.
“I’ve seen a couple of things happen like that. You have to contain your emotions and be careful out there,” said Anderson.
Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller suggested Ballard was careless in dealing with his frustration.
“You’d like to think when guys show anger that they’re cognizant of what’s around them,” Miller said following the Sabres’ 3-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But Miller doesn’t think Ballard deserves a suspension from the NHL.
“It’s within the team,” he said. “It should be an internal matter. Clubs can discipline their own.”
The Panthers tied it 3-3 with 2:23 remaining in the second period on a goal by Michael Frolik, his seventh. Weiss took the puck away from Atlanta’s Mark Popovic behind the net and passed to Frolik, who easily beat Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg.
“It’s not pretty. It’s a tough loss, and a hard one to swallow,” said DeBoer. “Managing the puck at critical times has been an issue for us through this streak and the same thing bit us tonight.”
Atlanta had gone ahead 3-2 on a goal by Chris Thorburn at 5:28 of the second period, beating Clemmensen from in close.
Popovic and Kovalchuk each scored goals off Vokoun in the opening period which ended in a 2-2 tie. Weiss and Rostislav Olesz scored for the Panthers.
Popovic opened the scoring with his second goal by beating Vokoun after only 3:36. Weiss scored his eighth goal at the 4:21 mark before Kovalchuk added his 15th goal to make it 2-1. Olesz tied it again with his sixth goal on a power play goal with 4:13 left.
Atlanta’s Eric Boulton had two assists.
NOTES: In his last start on Saturday night, Hedberg shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0. … Weiss has four goals and eight assists in his last 10 games. … The Thrashers are 6-5-2 at home. The Panthers fell to 7-6-2 on the road. … The Panthers have played eight games in 13 days. … The announced crowd of 10,310 was the smallest of the season.
-With files from The Canadian Press