Lehtonen unbeatable as Thrashers blank Devils

By Daren Smith
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEWARK, New Jersey (Ticker) — The Atlanta Thrashers let coach
John Anderson know they are still breathing.

Colby Armstrong and a resurgent Ilya Kovalchuk scored 2:28 apart
during a three-goal second period and Kari Lehtonen made 29
saves for his first shutout in nearly a year as the Thrashers
blanked the New Jersey Devils, 4-0, on Thursday.

Jim Slater netted the other second-period goal, Marty Reasoner
tallied in the third and Todd White collected a pair of assists
for Atlanta, which won for only the second time in eight games
(2-5-1) and for the first time in regulation since beating the
New York Islanders on December 23.

“I now know there’s a pulse in our room and that we do care,”
Anderson said. “To come in here against a team like New Jersey,
which plays so consistently good and is big and strong, to win
on the road like that when we really needed it says a lot about
our room.”

Lehtonen turned aside six shots in the first period, 13 in the
second and 10 in the third en route to his first shutout of the
season and 12th career. The 25-year-old Finn had not held an
opponent scoreless since blanking Tampa Bay on March 31.

Scott Clemmensen lasted only two periods, allowing three goals
on 19 shots in his 13th straight start for the Devils, who have
lost two in a row and been shut out three times in their last
five home games.

While Anderson called it the Thrashers’ most complete effort of
the season, Devils counterpart Brent Sutter believed it was his
team’s low point.

“I feel bad for anyone who had to come and watch that,” Sutter
said. “We didn’t play tonight at all, that’s a no-brainer.

“It’s about everybody. I’m not leaving anybody off the hook –
goaltenders, defensemen, forwards. They just have to get back
to where they need to be.”

Lehtonen was on his game early, denying Brian Rolston on a
breakaway six minutes in and getting a piece of Patrik Elias’
chance during a 3-on-1 with just under seven minutes remaining
in the first period.

“When you start thinking about (a shutout), the other team
scores,” Lehtonen said. “The first half of the game, I felt
good. I just tried to keep it going and got lucky a couple of
times in the third.”

Lehtonen helped Atlanta successfully kill a pair of third-period
power plays, including a four-minute advantage after enforcer
Eric Boulton received a double-minor for roughing.

“It doesn’t make me very happy to see our guys going to the box,
but we were able to kill them, and that was great,” Lehtonen
said. “It was a lot easier that the game was 4-0 at that time.
If it would’ve been tighter, I might have snapped a little bit
(at) a couple of guys.”

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The Thrashers also killed a couple of power plays in the opening
22 minutes, limiting the Devils to one shot. Just 46 seconds
after the second man advantage expired, Armstrong broke the
scoreless deadlock.

After grabbing a loose puck behind the net, Armstrong moved just
above the end line on the right side and unleashed a backhander.
The puck trickled past Clemmensen, who inadvertently knocked it
across the goal line while sprawling backward in the crease at

Atlanta, which had scored just one goal in three of its previous
four games, needed less than a minute to convert its first power
play as Kovalchuk received a cross-ice pass from Vyacheslav
Kozlov and blasted a one-timer from the top of the left faceoff
circle past Clemmensen at 5:31. It was his 15th goal of the
season and fourth in five games.

“Kozzie made a great play and I was right in the middle of the
zone,” said Kovalchuk, who earlier in the day was named as a
reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

It also was Kovalchuk’s 98th career goal with the man advantage.

Slater capped the second-period outburst with exactly six
minutes to go, receiving a pass from Chris Thorburn alone in the
slot and pulled the puck from his backhand to his forehand
before sliding it past Clemmensen for his fourth tally. It came
moments after Lehtonen got his glove on David Clarkson’s wrist
shot during a 2-on-1 rush.

Reasoner ended his 10-game goalless drought at 2:09 of the
third, beating Kevin Weekes from just above the right circle on
the first shot the backup goalie faced.

“We have to be more consistent. We have to play the kind of
hockey we played tonight more often,” Kovalchuk said. “That’s
the only way we can turn the season around and get closer to the

New Jersey has a firm grasp on a playoff spot but embarks on a
season-high five-game road trip Saturday at Los Angeles.

“This may be the best thing for us,” Sutter said. “We need to
get away and start that process that needs to be done. I trust
this group. We’ve had a bump in the road that we’ll deal with.”

The loss was New Jersey’s first to Atlanta in regulation in
their last nine meetings (6-1-2). The Devils outscored the
Thrashers, 7-1, in two victories earlier this season.