MONTREAL – Even without injured star Ilya Kovalchuk, the Atlanta Thrashers are finding ways to win.
Rich Peverley had a goal and two assists as the Thrashers survived a wild four-goal third period to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 on Tuesday night. The Canadiens tied the game twice on Brian Gionta’s second of the night and another by Tomas Plekanec, but Pavel Kubina and Colby Armstrong answered back each time to preserve the win for Atlanta (6-4-1).
“That was one of the greatest games I’ve been part of,” said Peverley. “They came back and we answered.
“That showed a lot of character, but they showed a lot of character too.”
Mark Popovic scored his first NHL goal and Bryan Little got his first of the season for the Thrashers, who were coming off a 3-1 win Saturday in Ottawa on a 50-save effort from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
This time, the Czech goaltender allowed a pair of goals to Gionta and one each by Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec on 38 Montreal shots as the Canadiens (7-8-0) had a five-game home winning streak ended.
Carey Price, now 2-6-0 for the season, faced 30 Atlanta shots.
“What concerns me most is our lack of effectiveness in protecting our goaltender,” said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. “Part of that starts in the offensive zone with back pressure – helping the defence – but also in being more effective in the defensive zone.
“I thought Carey kept us in the game in the first period. The (last two) goals weren’t his fault.”
Kovalchuk missed a third game with a broken foot, but that didn’t stop the Atlanta attack, particularly the top line of Peverley, Little and Todd White, which produced two goals in the opening period.
“I just shows the depth we have,” said Peverley, who stretched his points streak to eight games. “Every line can put the puck in the net.
“When he went down, a lot of guys stepped up. It’s been fun to be part of.”
Since he joined the Thrashers on waivers from the Nashville Predators last Jan. 10, Peverley has 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 50 games. He leads the club this season with 16 points in 11 games.
In parts of three seasons with the Predators for being claimed by Atlanta, the Guelph, Ont., native had only seven goals and 13 assists in 73 NHL games.
He said he got off to a good start when he arrived in Atlanta and “as time went on I got to play on special teams and in key minutes of the game and that helped.
“And I worked hard over the summer.”
Peverley has eight points in five career games against Montreal.
He got it started in the first period as his pass near the net went in off Little’s leg at 17:34. It was Little’s first goal of the season and his first in 20 games dating to March 20.
“It was fluky, but I’ll take anything to get it started,” said Little.
With 13 seconds left in the period, Peverley beat Price with a quick shot off a feed from White.
Gionta finally got one past Pavelec just after a power play ended 2:51 into the second frame. He scored on a low shot from outside the left circle on a rush.
Popovic got it back at 7:30 when his point shot went off a defender’s stick and went in off the crossbar. It was the first goal in 57 career NHL games for the Stoney Creek, Ont., defenceman, who returned to the Thrashers after playing for St. Petersburg of the KHL last season.
With 36 seconds left in the period, Peverley misfired a pass in his own zone and Cammalleri stole it and went in alone to deke Pavelec.
Gionta tied it with his second of the game 1:26 into the third period when he took a feed from Scott Gomez and picked the top corner from close range.
Kubina scored his first as a Thrasher on a power play at 4:10 and he banged in Nik Antropov’s pass across the front of the crease.
Plekanec’s wide-angled shot tied it again at 12:40, but only 34 seconds later, Armstrong was left alone in front on a counterattack to bang Marty Reasoner’s pass into an open net.
Atlanta got a scare 38 seconds into the second period when Peverley cut inside to avoid a hit from Jaroslav Spacek and was sent sprawling after catching his left leg on the Montreal defencemen. He returned after a brief trip to the trainer’s room
Notes: Kovalchuk missed a third game with a broken right foot, while Ron Hainsey sat out a second game with an undisclosed injury for Atlanta. . . Hall Gill (lower body) joined fellow defencemen Andrei Markov (foot) and Ryan O’Byrne (lower body) on Montreal’s injured list. Mathieu Carle was called up from Hamilton and made his NHL debut.