ATLANTA – Eric Christensen might have a handle on why the Thrashers have been perfect in shootouts this season while struggling during regulation.
Christensen scored the winner in an extra round of the shootout Friday night, lifting the Thrashers to a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks to snap a four-game skid.
I don’t know what it is with a shootout,” Christensen said. “I’m always calm, which is different than during the game.”
Atlanta also won its other shootout, beating Buffalo on Oct. 18 when Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov scored. Christensen was stopped that time, but he came through against Vancouver.
Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves for Atlanta and turned back the final shootout bid by Daniel Sedin as the Thrashers won for the first time this season against a Western Conference team after five losses. It was also just the second home win for the Thrashers in their past 12 games.
Kozlov and Vancouver’s Pavol Demitra scored in the first three rounds of the shootout to force an extra round.
“All my life,” Christensen replied when asked how long he had been working on the move that produced the winner against LaBarbera. “It’s called the double deke. It’s one of the two moves I usually do.”
Shootouts haven’t been kind to Vancouver. The Canucks dropped to 1-4.
“This is a game we can build on,” Lehtonen said. “We played well in the third (period). It’s too bad they were able to tie the game.”
Kozlov, Kovalchuk and Joey Crabb had goals in regulation play for Atlanta. Henrik Sedin had two goals and twin Daniel Sedin the other for Vancouver. Each of the Sedins had three points.
“We probably should have won the game before the shootout,” Daniel Sedin said.
LaBarbera made 34 saves while playing for the second straight night after being acquired from Los Angeles when the Canucks lost Roberto Luongo and Curtis Stanford because of groin injuries.
“My success rate in the shootout hasn’t been very good,” LaBarbera said. “I would of liked to come up with one more save.”
After Kozlov converted a rebound on the power play to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead with 3:46 into the third period, Vancouver tied it with 8:44 left when Daniel Sedin, fighting Marty Reasoner in front, tipped Henrik Sedin’s shot past Lehtonen for his 19th goal.
Henrik Sedin’s second goal came at 7:14 of the second period – the centre wheeled around Reasoner and jammed the puck past Lehtonen to the short side. It was Sedin’s seventh goal of the season.
Kovalchuk, who had gone a career-high nine games without a goal before scoring Wednesday at Carolina, made it 2-all at 12:24 of the period. Kovalchuk took a feed from Jason Williams, who was behind the net, and ripped a shot past LaBarbera for his 13th goal.
“Every time Kovalchuk had the puck, something happened,” LaBarbera said. “He is a special player.”
The Thrashers took the lead nine minutes into the game with their first short-handed goal of the season. Niclas Havelid chipped the puck up ice on the penalty kill and Crabb outraced Demitra to it. The goal was the rookie’s third of the season.
But the advantage didn’t last long. Just 35 seconds after Crabb’s goal on a hard shot from outside the right faceoff circle, Jim Slater gave Vancouver a two-man advantage with a slashing penalty, and the Canucks cashed in.
Henrik Sedin tapped in a loose puck at the 10:26 mark while a Thrashers’ player had a broken stick.
Atlanta’s Eric Boulton and Vancouver’s Mike Brown fought just four seconds after the puck was dropped to start the game and both teams were feisty throughout.
Notes: Mats Sundin didn’t make the two-game trip with the Canucks to Nashville and Atlanta. The former Toronto centre, who signed with Vancouver Dec. 18, is likely to make his debut with the Canucks in a home game against St. Louis next Friday. Sundin is yet to have a full practice with his new team. Thrashers rookie D Zach Bogosian, who had been out since late October with a broken leg before returning Wednesday against Carolina, didn’t dress as D Nathan Oystrick returned to the lineup. Atlanta C Eric Perrin was a healthy scratch for the second time this season.