NEWARK, N.J. – Marian Hossa got a congratulatory handshake and a very meaningful message from Thrashers coach Don Waddell.
“I’m proud of you,” Waddell, who doubles as the Atlanta general manager, told his star forward after the Thrashers pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.
That wouldn’t be possible if not for Hossa, who scored the tying goal with 18.1 seconds left in regulation. It got the game into overtime and vaulted the Thrashers into a first-place tie with Carolina in the tight Southeast Division.
Whether Hossa will still be with Atlanta by the time it all plays out is in question. The unrestricted free agent to be hasn’t worked out a new deal with Waddell and the Thrashers and doesn’t want to stay with them long term if the team isn’t going to have a legitimate chance to win.
These two points were certainly a step in the right direction. Atlanta erased a two-goal deficit in the second period and then got even again on Hossa’s heroics.
Pascal Dupuis had the decisive tally in the 10th round of a shootout. None of that would have been possible without Hossa, who likely will be gone by the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
“I have a great relationship with Don and I don’t think that’s going to change. Either I’m going to stay or I’m going to leave,” Hossa said. “He’s a great guy and a great GM.”
For now, he is still with the Thrashers and he was in the perfect place at the perfect time. He got to a rebound of Eric Perrin’s shot and smacked the puck past Martin Brodeur.
“I’m happy I could help the team by scoring the tying goal but it wouldn’t matter if it was me or somebody else,” Hossa said. “We didn’t quit and we got two points, which was huge.”
Ilya Kovalchuk, who earlier scored his 40th goal, answered Patrik Elias’ shootout goal to send the tiebreaker into extra rounds. Hossa and Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner both found the net in the fourth round, and no one else scored until Dupuis.
Arron Asham shot wide of Johan Hedberg to end it, denying the Devils’ hopes of being alone atop the Atlantic Division. Instead. they had to settle for a first-place tie with Pittsburgh.
“It’s disappointing,” forward Zach Parise said. “It was a good chance for us to jump into sole possession of first place, but it didn’t happen.”
John Madden put New Jersey ahead 3-2 at 8:45 of the third, but it didn’t hold up. The Devils finished the season series 3-0-1 against the Thrashers.
Atlanta pressed for the winner in the final 91 seconds of overtime during a power play. Vitaly Vishnevski went off for tripping soon after officials missed a high-stick by Devils defenceman Colin White that bloodied Ken Klee’s face.
The Thrashers held a 5-1 shots advantage in overtime and peppered Brodeur, who was sharp – making a brilliant pad save on Slava Kozlov on the doorstep. Madden had several chances to clear the puck but couldn’t get it out.
Brodeur, in his 17th straight start, made 29 saves before the shootout, and Hedberg stopped 30.
Parise and Brian Gionta also scored for New Jersey, which will travel to face Ottawa – the Eastern Conference leader – on Saturday night. The Devils beat the Senators at home Wednesday in overtime.
“We have to get some rest,” said Brodeur, expected to start again Saturday. “It was a tough game. We have to forget about it as quick as possible. We got some points (this week) so that’s one of the positives. Wish we could’ve had two tonight.”
Kovalchuk and Todd White had second-period goals to erase the Devils’ 2-0 lead.
Only 40 seconds after Gionta gave New Jersey its two-goal edge, Kovalchuk reached the 40-goal mark for the fourth straight season at 3:49.
Atlanta got the equalizer after Bobby Holik goaded David Clarkson into a holding penalty way behind the play. Mark Recchi sent a pass along the goal line, and White redirected it in to make it 2-2 with 8:29 left.
Gionta, who snapped a 14-game goal-less streak by netting the winner Wednesday against Ottawa, found the net again 3:09 into the second.
New Jersey took a 1-0 lead in the first on Parise’s 21st.
Hedberg got the start for the first time in six games and just the fourth in 16 over No. 1 netminder Kari Lehtonen and earned his second consecutive win.
Notes: Lehtonen, 3-2 in his past five outings despite allowing only eight goals, is expected to start Saturday at the New York Islanders. … The Devils were trying to sweep the season series from the Thrashers for the first time since 1999-2000. … This marked the longest shootout in Thrashers history.