ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers sure could use more big nights from Ilya Kovalchuk.
The talented Russian scored two goals and added an assist, and Atlanta held off the Florida Panthers 5-3 Sunday night to end a six-game losing streak.
“It seems like when I score, we win,” Kovalchuk said.
Kovalchuk scored both goals – his fourth and fifth – and assisted on Bryan Little’s sixth goal in the second period, giving the Thrashers a 4-1 lead. Erik Christiansen assisted on both of Kovalchuk’s goals.
The Panthers made it close when Nathan Horton scored at 18:20 of the second period and Noah Welch got his first goal of the season 3:17 into the final period.
“We still gave up too many opportunities,” said Kovalchuk, who scored 52 goals last season and has 259 in his six-plus seasons with Atlanta.
“We need to make sure we play defence first. We gave up two soft goals,” he said.
Atlanta’s Todd White scored an empty-net goal with 44 seconds remaining to seal the victory. White’s third goal came as he flipped the puck from in front of his net nearly the length of the ice into the middle of the Panthers’ goal.
The Thrashers hadn’t won since Oct. 18, a 3-2 shootout victory over Buffalo. Atlanta (3-7-2) is 3-3 at home.
Kovalchuk’s first goal came at 5:05 when he beat Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun from in close, giving Atlanta a 2-0 lead before David Booth scored for the Panthers on a power play. Booth got his fourth goal by poking a wraparound shot past goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 6:47 gone in the second.
It was the first start for rookie Pavelec, who was starting in place of ailing Kari Lehtonen. The 21-year-old was recalled Saturday from Chicago of the AHL and played the final period in a 6-1 loss at New Jersey. He stopped all six shots in that game after Johan Hedberg gave up six goals in the first two periods.
“The guys in front of me played great and did a good job and that’s why we won,” said Pavelec, who stopped 18 of 21 shots. “We played more defensive.”
Kovalchuk made it 3-1 with a power-play score when he stickhandled past three Panthers before flipping the puck past Vokoun and into the upper right corner of the net as he was falling at the 10:39 mark.
“You have to finish your play,” Kovalchuk said.
Little then raced and beat Vokoun to the puck from about 10 feet in front of the goal, easily scoring into a wide-open net for a 4-1 lead at the 17-minute mark.
“When you don’t come ready to play, that’s what you get,” Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. “I can live playing 1-0, and 2-1 games if that’s what we need to win. There is no excuse for not showing up ready to go to work.”
Horton made it 4-2 when he scored his fourth goal from in front 1:20 later.
Slava Kozlov gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead with nine seconds remaining in the opening period, knocking in his sixth goal by rebounding a shot from Garnet Exelby past Vokoun, who was falling backward after the puck hit him in the chest. It was Kozlov’s third goal in three games.
Notes: Pavelec, recalled from Chicago of the AHL on Friday, started in place of ailing Kari Lehtonen, who was a scratch along with F Brett Sterling. … The Thrashers outshot Florida 15-4 in the opening period. … White played in his 500th NHL game. … Florida D Jay Bouwmeester played in his 400th game and C Kamil Kreps took part in his 100th. … This was the Panthers’ second of five straight road games. They are 1-4-1 away from home.