The Thrashers ended a five-game losing streak with a 4-3 shootout win over the host Hurricanes on Saturday, giving them a little more breathing room – a five-point lead – in the division and a confidence boost.
“We know where they’re at,” Atlanta forward Scott Mellanby said. “We can feel them.”
Vyacheslav Kozlov and Marian Hossa both scored in the shootout, while Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped Ray Whitney and Justin Williams for the Thrashers’ fifth shootout win this season. Lehtonen finished with 24 saves.
“On our side, we could have left two points here and kept our losing streak going, this was huge,” Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. “This wasn’t a good road trip for us, but we finished on a positive note.”
The shootout loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes, who had also won the first three meetings against Atlanta this season. The defending Stanley Cup champions had been pointing to this game, with the Thrashers playing for the second time in as many days, as way to make up ground.
“It’s a tough loss but it could have went our way so we just have to move on,” Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour said.
The Thrashers led 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period, but fell behind 3-2 on Dennis Seidenberg’s goal 27 seconds into third period. Bobby Holik’s long goal at 10:27 in the third tied the score at three and forced the overtime. Holik ripped a slapshot from the blueline that caught Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward off guard.
“It cost us the game,” Ward said. “It was my fault.”
Holik said he was just trying to get a hard shot on goal and create an opportunity for his slumping team. The Thrashers have actually held a lead going into the third period in the past four losses.
“That was our problem that last few games where we stopped playing,” Holik said.
Atlanta started strong with Mellanby’s goal at 2:54 in the first. The Hurricanes tied the score at one on Williams’ goal at 5:38. Williams wristed a short from the right circle over Atlanta goalie Lehtonen’s left shoulder. Carolina’s Erik Cole took two straight penalties at the end of the first period.
Atlanta didn’t convert on the first power-play opportunity but did on the second, with five seconds to spare. Atlanta defenceman Greg de Vries fed a cross-ice pass to Glen Metropolit at the left post for a 2-1 lead with 62 seconds left in the first period.
The Hurricanes tied the score with Whitney’s goal, on Cole’s first of two assists, 9:29 into the second period.
Seidenberg, a defenceman acquired from Phoenix on Jan. 8, gave the Hurricanes their only lead on a shot from the right circle. The puck bounced off Lehtonen and in front of a diving Garnet Exelby.
Given Atlanta’s recent third-period problems, Hartley wasn’t worried about trailing so late.
“We’ve been there before,” Hartley said. “We know how play in those situations. We kept battling. Then Bobby gave us the tying goal and then it was a matter of who would get the last chance.”
Actually, the Thrashers got three chances, all by Ilya Kovalchuk in overtime, but Ward came up with his three best saves of the game. Once in the shootout, Ward couldn’t stop the Thrashers.
“If we’re going to get an extra point against any team, obviously it would be this one,” Mellanby said.
Notes: The Hurricanes, who went 8-2 in shootouts last season, fell to 0-3. … Carolina forwards Justin Williams and Eric Staal were added to the Eastern Conference roster for the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 24 in Dallas. … Atlanta recalled defenceman Mark Popovic from Chicago before the game. He played 8:28 against Carolina. … Whitney’s goal, his 18th of the season, gave him six points in the past four games.