Marian Hossa delivered the decisive goal in a shootout as the Atlanta Thrashers edged the New Jersey Devils 5-4 on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal lead. “That was two huge points for us,” said Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored two goals. “We had to take care of business,” added Slava Kozlov, who also scored for Atlanta in the shootout and added three assists.
The Thrashers ended a power-play slump with three man-advantage goals and earned their fourth consecutive home win over New Jersey, which has lost two straight overall.
The Thrashers, who lead the Southeast Division, led 2-0 before giving up three straight goals and then led 4-3 before being forced into overtime by the Atlantic Division-leading Devils.
The Thrashers, looking for their first playoff berth, needed the win to salvage a 6-5-2 record for the month.
“We can’t deny that the countdown is on,” Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. “We have to focus; getting points every game should be our goal. You look at the jam in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th (playoff) spots, you don’t want to get in that mess because it’s going to get muddy.”
Kozlov was first up in the shootout, and his shot was initially blocked by Martin Brodeur. The puck slid into the net when Brodeur fell to his left.
“I thought he made the stop,” Kozlov said. “When I skated to the bench and heard the reaction of the fans, I turned around and the puck was in. It was kind of a lucky goal.”
Said Brodeur: “Bad bounce. You make that save and you get a little more confidence.”
Hossa’s winner was more impressive. He faked a shot to his right before pulling his stick back and flicking the wrist shot to the left side of the net.
Kari Lehtonen blocked two shots to win the shootout duel.
Lehtonen allowed a goal to Brian Gionta, who also scored in regulation, before blocking attempts by Zach Parise and John Madden.
The teams combined for 80 shots on goal – 40 for each team.
“It was pretty intense,” said Brodeur. “It was fun just to be a part of it.”
Atlanta put an early end to four games of frustration on the power play by scoring three goals in six opportunities. The Thrashers, 0-for-6 on the power play in their 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, had been 0-for-18 with the advantage.
The breakthrough for Atlanta was disheartening for New Jersey coach Claude Julien, who said he is accustomed to better defence.
“We gave up three goals on our penalty kill tonight, and we haven’t seen that in a long time,” Julien said. “They’ve got some good, highly skilled players on the other side that thrive on those kind of things, and we were put in a situation to where we had to kill a little more than we had in the past.”
The Thrashers won three of four games in the season series. Both teams have 66 points and trail Eastern Conference leader Buffalo by six.
Less than eight minutes into the game, Kovalchuk took a circle-to-circle pass from Kozlov and fired a wrist shot past Brodeur.
About four minutes later, more crisp passing by the Thrashers on the power play – this time from Marian Hossa to Kozlov to Kovalchuk – set up Kovalchuk’s second goal.
A minor hooking penalty on Gionta set up Kovalchuk’s second goal, but Gionta answered with the Devils’ first goal on a tip-in 15:04 into the first period.
The Devils carried the momentum created by Gionta’s goal into the second period, pulling even when Patrik Elias tipped in Brian Rafalski’s shot attempt and then taking a 3-2 lead when Parise pushed a shot over Lehtonen’s shoulder and off the cross bar. Officials reviewed the play to confirm the puck entered the net.
Atlanta tied the game a 3-3 on Niclas Havelid’s third goal of the season, an unassisted shot from the right circle, 14:29 into the period.
A roughing penalty against New Jersey’s Colin White at the end of the second period set up a successful power play for the Thrashers for a 4-3 lead 1:19 into the third period.
Glen Metropolit skated behind the net and then scored by whirling and firing the shot inside the left post when it appeared he would instead pass to Kovalchuk, standing in the left circle.
New Jersey again answered when Madden tipped in a pass from Sergei Brylin for a 4-4 tie through three periods.
Notes: Gionta has four goals in his last four games and 24 for the season. … The Thrashers activated D Andy Sutton from injured reserve. Sutton returned after missing 27 games with a left ankle injury.