Here’s my game story, with quotes, for those who would like to comment.
Something you haven’t heard in a long time: The first-place Thrashers.
Something you have never heard: Eric Boulton scores a hat trick.
Both occurred Saturday night as the Thrashers took over the Southeast Division lead by dominating New Jersey 7-1 in front of a Philips Arena crowd of 17,024. The win, coupled with Washington’s loss to Boston, moved the Thrashers one point ahead of the Capitals. The last time the Thrashers held a division lead was Oct. 10, 2008 – after a win in the first game of the season.
The Thrashers (18-11-5, 41 points) are 11-2-2 in their past15 games. They snapped a two-game losing streak, both shootout losses, by scoring three first-period goals.
“We can’t scoreboard watch too much, but we’d be lying if we said we all didn’t know we are in first place,” said Boulton, who sat in a locker full of hats fans had showered on the ice.
Asked if he had ever scored a hat trick, Boulton – who how has 24 career goals in 10 NHL seasons – said simply: “Negative. Not in the NHL, that’s for sure.”
Ron Hainsey, Evander Kane and Boulton scored in the opening period for an insurmountable lead against the struggling Devils. The Thrashers chased Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in the second period to add insult to injury.
Former Thrashers captain Ilya Kovlachuk was heartily booed in his return to Philips Arena, especially after he scored a second-period, power-play goal.
The Devils (9-21-2, 20 points) lost their second straight game, and seventh if their past eight.
“Everything went wrong,” Kovalchuk told reporters. “I don’t know what. It’s unacceptable. It’s embarrassing.”
Hainsey opened the scoring with his first goal of the season 10:56 into the game. He slapped a loose puck past Brodeur, who was lying in the goal crease after stopping several initial shots. The goal marked the 17th time in the past 21 games that the Thrashers have scored first.
Boulton scored at the 15:30 mark when he converted Chris Thorburn’s pass from behind the net. He would add his final two goals in the third period.
Just 38 seconds later, Kane beat Brodeur. It tied Kane with Dustin Byfuglien for the team lead in goals at 11.
The line of Boulton, Thorburn and Jim Slater combined for four goals and three assists.
“It can’t happen often,” Thorburn said of Boulton’s trio. “He puts in the work and it’s great to see him rewarded like that. It’s fun. We are having a good time about it and I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of him talking about it.”
Andrew Ladd made it 4-0 as he joined Kane and Byfuglien for the goal lead. The captain scored 6:37 into the second period on a wide-angle shot that beat Brodeur to the high glove side.
Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec won his 11th game of the season by stopping 26 shots.
“It was unreal,” Pavelec said. “It was 5-1 and guys were still blocking shots and playing so hard.”
Following the goal, at the next timeout, Brodeur was pulled in favor of Johan Hedberg. The former Thrasher was greeted by a chorus of “Moooose” in honor of the fan favorite’s nickname. “It was very emotional, very touching,” Hedberg told reporters. “The crowd, I thought that was very nice of them.”
Kovalchuk extended his point streak to five games (three goals, four assists) with his goal from a familiar spot. He one-timed a pass from Travis Zajac from the left faceoff circle with 55 seconds remaining in a holding penalty to Nik Antropov. It was too little as the Devils fell to 1-19-0 when trailing after two periods.
Boulton scored his second goal of the game when he jammed in a puck 4:07 into the third period. The goal was reviewed after Boulton crashed into Hedberg and stood after a lengthy look. Boulton got his third goal with 3:06 remaining when he knocked in a loose puck with Hedberg caught out of the net. The forward had two goals all last season. Thorburn, who assisted on Boulton’s first two goals, scored with 1:07 left.
“It’s about expecting to win,” Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. “It’s a long season but our players now go into games expecting to win. They expect to play well. They are pushing each other to participate.”