That’s hardly been the case since Atlanta traded for him in 2002, but the Thrashers now have the post-season in their sights. “Right now, with (four) games left, we picked up one point last night and two points today,” Kozlov said. “That was huge.” Kozlov scored two goals, including the game-winner on the power play with 46.4 seconds remaining in overtime, to help Atlanta end a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
The Thrashers, who debuted in 1999-2000, have never made the post-season, but coach Bob Hartley, in his fifth season with Atlanta, believes the less experienced players feed off veterans like Kozlov.
“Slava orchestrates everything and positions himself in front of the net,” Hartley said. “He is so poised out there that it’s like he has a sixth sense.”
Kozlov gave the Thrashers a 2-1 lead 2:15 into the third period with a tip-in of Andy Sutton’s slap shot from the left circle.
Marian Hossa made it 1-0 early in the first with his 42nd goal for Atlanta, which increased its lead over idle second-place Tampa Bay to five points in the Southeast Division.
Hal Gill made it 2-all with 13:20 remaining for Toronto, which had won three of four to begun the night two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Losers of five straight on the road, the Maple Leafs still earned their 85th point, one better than the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes.
John Pohl tied it at 1-1 in the first with his 12th goal.
Kozlov, who scored two goals for a career-high 75 points in a 3-2 overtime loss at Florida on Wednesday night, was in the bottom of the left circle when he swept the puck past the right side of goaltender Andrew Raycroft for his 27th goal.
“I’m playing with great guys,” Kozlov said. “We got the power play. We controlled the puck. We tried to work with the (Leafs) and get them tired.”
Nik Antropov’s hooking penalty led to Atlanta’s man advantage in OT and helped the Thrashers improve to 7-1 in their last eight home games.
“We didn’t want to get ourselves a man down in overtime against that team,” Toronto coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve seen that an awful lot with Atlanta. We fought back when he had to. We just couldn’t convert on a couple of those real good cycles we had in the offensive zone.”
Johan Hedberg improved to 8-4-2, winning his second straight start as coach Bob Hartley gave Kari Lehtonen the night off. Despite stopping 27 of 29 shots, Hedberg was leaning far to his left when Gill beat him with a wide-open shot from the left circle.
Hedberg was so focused on the crowd in front of him that he apparently failed to see Antropov control a rebound and make a backhanded pass across the slot to Gill.
“We have one big goal,” Hedberg said. “That’s making the playoffs. Now we have to take the next big step.”
Antropov was disappointed with the penalty he took in OT.
“Look at their lineup,” Antropov said. “Those three lines, everybody can score. We’re in pretty much every game, but it’s unfortunate they beat us. At least we got the point.”
Pohl’s wrist shot from the left circle beat Hedberg under the pads.
In their last seven road games, the Maple Leafs have earned just two points, but team captain Mats Sundin likes his team’s chances.
“A bunch of teams are clustered up, and we were able to salvage a point,” Sundin said. “We’re staying positive.”
Hossa, who had scored just one goal in the last seven games, was skating down the right side of the slot when Keith Tkachuk’s backhanded pass from the bottom of the left circle hit him in stride. Hossa lifted a wrist shot over Raycroft’s glove side 3:24 into the first.
Kozlov had four goals and five assists in the season series against Toronto, which Atlanta won 3-1.
Notes: The Thrashers were 6-14-2 in their first six seasons against Toronto, including a 3-7-1 record in Atlanta. … With 42 assists, Sundin needs 15 points to reach 917 and pass Darryl Sittler for first place on the Leafs’ career list. … Hossa, who had his 54th assist on Kozlov’s game-winner, finished the season series with seven points, including five goals. … Raycroft, who dropped to 35-24-8, is three wins shy of Toronto’s single-season franchise record, which Ed Belfour set in 2002-03.