ATLANTA – Rich Peverley and Johan Hedberg helped Atlanta’s post-Olympic playoff push begin just as the Thrashers had hoped.
“It couldn’t have started off any better,” coach John Anderson said.
Peverley had his 19th goal and an assist, Hedberg made 34 saves and the Thrashers defeated the Florida Panthers 4-2 on Tuesday night.
Colby Armstrong, Todd White and Pavel Kubina also scored for Atlanta, which returned from the Olympic break just outside a playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
“We want to move up (in the standings) as quickly as possible,” said White, who also had an assist.
Atlanta has 12 home games in March, including nine of its first 11 after the Olympic break.
“We have a lot of home games,” said Peverley, who reached 100 career points. “We have to keep going and take advantage of those games.”
Atlanta took the lead for good on White’s power-play goal off a feed from Peverley 7:33 into the second period. Then, Kubina made it a two-goal advantage with 5:13 left in the second period, blasting a shot from the left side past Scott Clemmensen just as another Atlanta power play was expiring. It was the sixth goal for each.
“When we looked at the schedule, we thought that if we were close (going into March) we had a favourable schedule, in theory,” Anderson said. “Now it’s what we do with it.”
Stephen Weiss scored his 22nd goal for Florida and David Booth, who missed 45 games with a concussion, had his first goal since Oct. 24 and an assist. Clemmensen made his first start time since Dec. 27 and faced 39 shots.
Clemmensen was in net instead of Thomas Vokoun, who started 21 consecutive games for Florida before playing for the Czech Republic in the Olympics. The subject of trade rumours, Vokoun is scheduled to start Wednesday night when the Panthers play at Philadelphia.
The Thrashers took a quick 2-0 lead on goals 69 seconds apart on the second and third shots that Clemmensen faced. Peverley scored on a wrister from the right faceoff circle 2:34 in and Armstrong beat Clemmensen from almost the same spot for his 10th goal with 3:43 having been played.
“Obviously, I was rusty,” Clemmensen said. “It was a tough start.”
Atlanta’s lead didn’t last long, though, as Florida regrouped after a timeout. Weiss knocked in a rebound on a power play 5:58 into the first period and Booth beat Hedberg from straight away after a Florida rush with 10:45 gone in the game. It was the third goal of the season for Booth, who missed 45 games with a concussion before returning Jan. 31.
“We knew we had to be opportunistic around their net and cash in our chances,” Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. “I don’t think we did a good enough job. … We have to find a way to bury some chances.”
Hedberg wouldn’t led the Panthers capitalize.
“You don’t know where you stand when you don’t play for two weeks (because of the Olympics),” the goaltender said. “We wanted to get off to a quick start after the break. This win was important for us.”
NOTES: The Thrashers will reassign 48-year-old defenceman Chris Chelios back to Chicago of the AHL if he clears waivers Wednesday. He signed a two-way contract with Atlanta on Tuesday. … D Christoph Schubert returned to the Atlanta lineup after missing 13 games because of a knee injury. He had been on IR since Jan. 18. … RW Evgeny Artyukhin, acquired by the Thrashers on Monday from Anaheim, was delayed in arriving in Atlanta. … D Jason Garrison, called up from Rochester of the AHL to take the roster spot of Jordan Leopold, was in Florida’s lineup. Leopold was traded to Pittsburgh on Monday. … LW Slava Kozlov, who has requested a trade, was a healthy scratch for the eighth time in 10 games.