Lehtonen set an Atlanta mark for shutout minutes before finally giving up a goal on a deflection, and the Thrashers won their third straight by defeating the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Wednesday night. After back-to-back shutouts, Lehtonen learned that he was closing on the record held by Michael Garnett.
“It was kind of weird to go to the game and know I had to play five or 10 minutes without giving up a goal,” Lehtonen said. “After I broke the record in the first period, that was very relaxing.”
He stretched his scoreless streak to 167 minutes, 56 seconds before P.J. Axelsson scored on a deflected shot off his chest at 5:14 of the second. Garnett’s record was 155:55, set over a three-game span last December.
“I was not expecting anything like this,” Lehtonen said. “Not even in my wildest dreams.”
Marian Hossa kept up his strong start with a goal and two assists. He has four goals and eight points in the Thrashers’ first four games, but Atlanta’s play at the defensive end is the major reason for its strong start.
The Thrashers have surrendered only one even-strength goal.
“Kari has been unbelievable for us so far,” Hossa said. “But I also think we’re doing a much better job of helping out Kari.”
Atlanta, which got off to a miserable start in 2005 and came up two points shy of its first playoff appearance, has picked up at least one point in every game. The Thrashers began their winning streak after a shootout loss on opening night.
Lehtonen is a big reason for the turnaround. The Finnish goalie went down in last year’s opener with a groin injury, and wound up playing only 38 games. He stepped up his conditioning during the offseason and is fulfilling his potential as the second pick in the 2002 NHL draft.
“Their goaltender doesn’t give up goals in back-to-back games,” Boston coach Dave Lewis said. “That gives them a lot of confidence.”
As for his own group, Lewis said, “We are not a team yet. We have to grow together. We have to identify what’s important to be successful.”
Lehtonen stopped several shots from point-blank range in the third, finishing with 22 saves.
“If you look at any team having success, you’re going to have a good goalie,” coach Bob Hartley said. “Goaltending is such a big part of this game. They are the ones who repair the mistakes. They are the ones who give you confidence. Right now, we have a lot of confidence.”
The Thrashers broke up a scoreless game less than three minutes into the second on Jon Sim’s second goal of the season. After Steve Rucchin won a faceoff in the Boston zone, Sim fired a shot through a screen that beat Bruins goalie Hannu Toivonen.
Boston tied it on a power play when Brad Boyes fired a shot that was going wide of the net, only to have it ricochet off Axelsson’s chest and past a helpless Lehtonen – the first non-shootout goal he had given up since early in the third period of the opening game.
“I kind of laughed,” the goalie said. “I was like, ‘OK, I can finally start playing hockey again.”‘
But Scott Mellanby put the Thrashers ahead for good on a power play with 5 1/2 minutes left in the second. With Bruins defenceman Andrew Alberts hobbled by a shot off his foot, Hossa passed across the crease to Mellanby, who slammed it past Toivonen.
Glen Metropolit added another goal in the period, his first with the Thrashers, and Hossa put it away with a beautiful goal in the final period. After Boston failed to keep it in at the point, Hossa swept across the faceoff circles, put defenceman Nathan Dempsey on his heels and slid the puck through Toivonen’s pads.
Notes: Thrashers D Greg DeVries went off early in the third period after being struck in the face with a shot. He needed 14 stitches to fix a nasty cut, but Hartley expects him at practice Thursday wearing a face shield. … Former Atlanta C Marc Savard returned to Philips Arena with the Bruins. He managed one shot on goal.