ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Thrashers are determined to take the playoff race right down to the last game.
Marian Hossa scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period, then added an empty netter with 25 seconds to go that carried the Thrashers past the Washington Capitals 5-3 on Thursday night.
Atlanta pulled within two points of defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have three games remaining.
"The fumes are coming out, but we're still running," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "We have the pedal to the medal all the way down. I'm not going to let anyone slow down. We need three more wins. There's no way we can settle for less."
Indeed, the Thrashers must beat out the Lightning, who would likely win any tiebreaker scenario for the eighth spot because they have two more wins and defeated Atlanta in the season series.
Hossa and his linemates, Slava Kozlov and Marc Savard, are doing their best to get Atlanta to the playoffs for the first time. Hossa assisted on two goals, giving him four points on the night. Kozlov had a goal and an assist. Savard had two assists.
"Those guys," Hossa said of the other two, "see the ice really well. When you get open, they get you the puck. They are very skilled players."
So is Hossa, who snapped a 3-all tie with 9.3 seconds left in the second. Olaf Kolzig made the save on Kozlov's initial shot, but Hossa scooped up the rebound, kicked it to himself at the side of the goal and backhanded the shot past the sprawling Capitals goalie.
Then, after the Capitals pulled Kolzig in the final minute and were on the verge of having a two-man advantage, Hossa knocked Alexander Ovechkin off the puck at the point and swooped in for the easiest of goals, his 39th of the season.
That final play ruined a memorable night for Ovechkin, who scored his 50th goal to become just the second rookie in NHL history to reach 50 goals and 100 points. Teemu Selanne had 76 goals and 132 points for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93.
"I'm happy he got to 50," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "I would have hated to see him finish at 49 goals. It would have been sad because I know what it has meant to him."
Atlanta played its third straight game with backup goalie Mike Dunham, who made 22 saves filling in for injured starter Kari Lehtonen.
"There was no pressure," Dunham said. "That's part of being a backup goalie."
Despite the urgency of their situation, the Thrashers got off to a typically slow start. Just over a minute into the game, Brian Willsie deflected a shot past Dunham.
Atlanta tied it up on a power play. Hossa escaped from two Washington players along the boards and slid a pass to Ilya Kovalchuk streaking down the middle all alone. He knew what to do with it, firing a perfect wrist shot over Kolzig's glove for his 52nd goal.
The Thrashers made it 2-1 less than two minutes later, this time with a similar setup by Patrik Stefan. He spun away from a defender in the corner and spotted Peter Bondra all alone. The ex-Capitals star let go of a slap shot with such force that it appeared to go right through Kolzig, who rolled onto his stomach and got up slowly.
Ovechkin tied it at 2 before the period ended, beating Dunham with a screened shot from the top of the left circle to join the elite 50-100 club.
Washington reclaimed the lead in the second. Ovechkin threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Dainius Zubrus, who scored his 23rd goal before Dunham had a chance to react. But Kozlov tied it for the Thrashers less than a minute later, then set up Hossa's game winner.
Atlanta nearly got an insurance goal with three minutes to go. Bobby Holik's shot went off the inside of the post and stayed out, though the officials stopped play to check the replay.
The Thrashers, who seemed down and out when they lost two straight at the end of March, have given themselves a chance with five wins and an overtime loss in seven games this month.
"You don't bother with what people on the outside are saying," Hartley said. "I said we would make a run, and we're honest people. We'll work to the last game and see where it takes us. We'll either go home or go to the playoffs."
Notes: Savard picked up the 400th point of his career with his first assist. ... Atlanta D Jaroslav Modry went out in the second period with a hamstring strain after falling awkwardly into the boards. ... Holik caught Washington's Jamie Heward in the face with a high stick in the third period. No penalty was called at first, but the referee sent Holik off for a double-minor when he saw blood dripping all over the ice. Heward didn't return. ... The Thrashers, who entered the league in 1999, are one of only two franchises that have never made the playoffs. Columbus is the other.
|Brian Willsie (18) ASST: Jeff Halpern (31), Jamie Heward (21)|
1 - 0 WSH
|PPG - Ilya Kovalchuk (52) ASST: Marian Hossa (51), Marc Savard (68)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Peter Bondra (20) ASST: Patrik Stefan (12), Garnet Exelby (9)|
2 - 1 ATL
|Alex Ovechkin (50) ASST: Steve Eminger (13), Matt Pettinger (18)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Dainius Zubrus (23) ASST: Alex Ovechkin (52), Jeff Halpern (32)|
3 - 2 WSH
|Vyacheslav Kozlov (25) ASST: Marian Hossa (52)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Marian Hossa (38) ASST: Vyacheslav Kozlov (44), Marc Savard (69)|
4 - 3 ATL
|EN - Marian Hossa (39) ASST: NONE|
5 - 3 ATL
|Chris Clark Interference against Ilya Kovalchuk|
|Ivan Majesky Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Derek MacKenzie Holding against Steve Eminger|
|Bobby Holik Hooking against Ivan Majesky|
|Bobby Holik Holding against Ivan Majesky|
|Jaroslav Modry Tripping against Matt Bradley|
|Ben Clymer Interference on goalkeeper against Mike Dunham|
|Bobby Holik Hi-sticking against Matt Pettinger|
|Bobby Holik Hi-sticking against Matt Pettinger|
|Dainius Zubrus Tripping against Jim Slater|
|Greg De Vries Hooking against Chris Clark|
|Andy Sutton Elbowing against Ivan Majesky|