ATLANTA – Todd White knows Ilya Kovalchuk rarely passes up a clear look at the net.
“He definitely has a nose for openings and that makes him a fun guy to play with,” White said. “He always sees where the open space is and goes there.” Kovalchuk scored in the first minute of overtime, 27 seconds after Marian Hossa forced the extra period with a power-play goal in the Atlanta Thrashers’ 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
White gave Kovalchuk his chance to win it. After forechecking Jay Bouwmeester against the left-wing boards, White stole the puck and made a backhanded pass to Kovalchuk, who stopped quickly and fired the puck under goalie Craig Anderson’s pads.
“I was just trying to put pressure on Bouwmeester,” White said. “I knew he didn’t have an out. He had nobody to pass to. I was just hoping Kovy was sniffing on the play, trying to get a break, and he was.”
Kovalchuk’s NHL-leading 15th goal gave the Thrashers their fourth win in five games. The 24-year-old Russian finished with two assists, giving him 13 points, including nine goals, in six games.
“It was a good play by him,” Kovalchuk said of White. “We work hard to create some chances out there.”
Florida has lost four straight and five of six. Against Carolina on Monday night, Cory Stillman scored with 1:06 remaining to beat the Panthers.
The Thrashers had a two-man skating advantage for the final 1:09 of regulation after coach Don Waddell pulled goalie Johan Hedberg, and Florida’s Greg Campbell was penalized for tripping.
“Six on four,” Campbell said. “It’s a tough way to have a goal scored against you.”
Hossa was between the crease and the bottom of the right circle when Anderson stopped Kovalchuk’s slap shot from the left circle.
Kovalchuk hit the puck so hard, however, that Hossa had little trouble tapping in the rebound for his seventh goal.
“There was no quit in our game,” Waddell said. “We kept coming and coming and finally got a break at the end.”
David Booth’s fourth goal gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead with 4:39 left in the third.
Ville Peltonen opened the scoring with his fourth goal 7:16 into the first.
White made it 2-2 with his fourth goal 31 seconds into the second.
Florida’s offence sputtered in the third as the Panthers managed just four shots. They have been outscored 29-14 in the final 20 minutes of regulation this season.
“It was disappointing because we put out a strong effort for a road game,” Panthers coach Jacques Martin said after his team fell to 2-8 away from home. “I thought we battled hard. It was bad luck, for sure, from the standpoint that (Hossa’s) puck went in. We should have won the game 2-1.”
Hedberg improved to 5-4 after stopping 19.
Anderson, who dropped to 0-3, started in goal for the first time since the Panthers’ 3-2 loss at Toronto on Oct. 18. Tomas Vokoun had started the last 11 games.
Notes: Of Kovalchuk’s 15 goals, nine have come after the second period. … Peltonen has eight points, including three goals in his last 10 games. … Before Hossa scored, the Thrashers’ power-play unit had converted just two of 19 chances. … Atlanta is 14-3-5 against the Panthers at home, 26-10-8 overall. … Florida claimed forward Garth Murray off re-entry waivers from the Montreal Canadiens.