Shortly after Rich Peverley’s game-winning shootout goal gave the Thrashers a 2-1 win against the Florida Panthers…coach John Anderson and the rest of the coaching staff departed to the locker room with big, broad smiles on their faces. Their team had just stolen two points on away ice in a game they very easily could have wound up with none…and the team of coaches looked like they just wanted to get out of Sunrise, Florida quickly, before someone could find a reason to take the points back.
For much of the game, the Panthers did a very good job of keeping Atlanta’s high-powered offense off balanced by playing a chippy, grinding kind of a game. They held the Thrashers scoreless for the first 58:56…which is even that much more impressive considering the amount of time Florida played shorthanded in the second period.
A very scary moment for Thrashers fans came at the 2:39 mark in the second period when Toby Enstrom was driven into the glass by Panther forward Michael Frolik. The boarding call brought with it a five-minute all-you-score power play for the Thrashers and an early exit for Frolik. Atlanta was not able to capitalize however…nor were they able to score on the power play that came just six seconds after the Panthers killed off the major. Same with the eight seconds worth of a 5 on 3 when Bryan McCabe elbowed Ilya Kovalchuk up around his throat. Ditto the subsequent 5 on 4 for 1:52.
For the night, the Thrashers failed to score on four power play chances and are 0 for 7 in their last three games while on the man advantage. Since the shootout loss to Boston on November 19, the Thrashers have been successful only three times on their last 30 power play opportunities, (10.0%).
Three or four times during regulation, Atlanta went postal…clanking the puck off the iron. But with just 64 seconds left in the game and the Thrashers down 1-0, Kaptain Kovalchuk was able to finally find the net, beating Tomas Vokoun with a blast from the right side after a great pass from Maxim Afinogenov.
I’m not sure…but after Kovy’s score, I think I saw Vokoun looking around to see where Keith Ballard was.
After surviving the five-minute overtime period in which the Panthers took all five shots on goal…the Thrashers found themselves in a shootout in Sunrise with a chance to steal away not one…but two points on this night. After Stephen Weiss was stopped by Johan Hedberg to open the individual skills exhibition, Kovalchuk blasted one past Vokoun again.
And that’s when the post started becoming the Thrashers friend.
In the second round, Nathan Horton heard more than a Who…he heard the puck ring off the left post. Slava Kozlov was then unsuccessful on Atlanta’s second attempt and the Steven Reinprecht kept Florida’s hopes alive with a goal to open the third round. Afinogenov’s attempt then was stopped by Vokoun… leaving the shootout at 1-1 after three rounds.
Rostislav Olesz was up next for Florida and for the second time in four chances, a Panthers player struck iron on his shot…this one ricocheting off the crossbar.
Peverley then dispensed of the Panthers by burying his shot over Vokoun’s right shoulder.
Goalkeeping was a big reason for tonight’s win. Moose started in goal and stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced. One huge save came in overtime when he was able to deny Weiss while on his backside after a rebound deflected off to his right. Hedberg improved his overall record to 7-2-0 with a 2.24 GAA and very impressive .932 SV%.
“Without our goalkeeping we wouldn’t be where we are today”, coach Anderson told Matt McConnell during the post-game show. “It’s certainly different from last year”.
Atlanta has now moved its record to 15-8-3 for 33 points. To give you an indication of how far this team has come since last year…last year’s Thrashers squad was not able to notch their 33rd point until the second half of the season…coming after game number 42 by way of a 4-0 win in New Jersey on January 8 last winter.
Stealing these two points was a fantastic way to get the cross-continental road trip off to a fine start. The Thrashers will now travel north of the border for a Monday night matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs who find themselves at 8-13-7 following the 7-2 beating suffered in Boston Saturday. Later in the week they’ll play in Calgary and Vancouver.
Hopefully, Anderson and his coaching staff will be smiling just as much then as they were on this winning night.