Eager took a double minor midway through the first period, leading to one power-play goal, then was ejected after being assessed a match penalty for intent to injure when he punched the Leafs' Colby Armstrong in the eye at 17:05 of the second. Toronto scored four times during the long power play to blow the game wide open.
Rookie James Reimer made 41 saves for his second win three starts and Toronto won for the third time in four games.
Not surprisingly, the events sparked something of a war of words - though not on the part of Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay.
"We want our players to play hard, we want them to play physically with body checks and to fight for the puck and we can't condone that," he said of Eager, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder who had 233 penalty minutes in 63 games with Philadelphia four years ago.
Toronto coach Ron Wilson called Eager's match penalty "uncalled for."
Atlanta trailed 5-1 when Dustin Byfuglien was called roughing Darryl Boyce at 17:05 of the second period. When the whistle blew, Eager got involved with Armstrong along the boards and delivered the blow that Wilson said immediately closed Armstrong's eye and kept him out for the rest of the game.
Afterward, Armstrong's right eye was bandaged and heavily taped. He said he did not know the seriousness of the injury. But he did not mince words about Eager.
"The guy's a meathead," said Armstrong, who played for Atlanta for parts of three seasons, including 2009-10, and who had a goal and an assist before the injury on Friday. "The score is what it is and he's coming out there and obviously you know what he's going to do. But it is what it is. Got in a little mix-up with him and he clocked me once, so …"
Eager, who joined the Thrashers during the summer from Chicago, could face additional discipline from the NHL. He was no fonder of Armstrong.
"He's done his fair share of dirty stuff in this League and he'll never answer the bell," Eager said. "But what goes around comes around, so I'm sure some day someone will catch him with his head down."
Eager, who has been in and out of the lineup for Atlanta, received a double minor in the second period for roughing and cross-checking on Dion Phaneuf -- that led to a power-play goal by Mikhail Grabovski.
"The first two penalties I got, I don't even know that they're penalties," Eager said. "I hardly touched the guy on either play. That's the way it goes sometimes. The match penalty -- I don't know; I got hit first and I hit him back. That's the way the game goes sometimes."
In all, the Leafs scored six times in the second period to break open a game that was 2-1 at the first intermission. Armstrong, Kulemin and Grabovski scored in a span of 3:09 prior to Eager's major.
After Eager took the match penalty, Toronto struck three times before the period ended. Kulemin got his second of the night at the 18-minute mark and MacArthur scored twice in 35 seconds in the final minute of the period.
In the midst of the mayhem of the second period, Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who has ranked among League statistical leaders all season in goals-against average and save percentage, was pulled for the first time this season after Toronto's fourth goal.
Chris Mason replaced him, but allowed three goals on four shots before Ramsay sent Pavelec back in the game, only to see him allow MacArthur's second goal with 10.1 seconds left in the period. Mason then returned and played the third period, allowing another power-play goal by Phil Kessel at 1:32.
Toronto scored the last two goals of the first period to take a 2-1 lead into first intermission. After Tobias Enstrom scored 2:36 into the game for Atlanta, the Leafs got goals from Versteeg and Grabovski to take the lead for good.
Atlanta made the final score look a little better when Patrice Cormier earned his first NHL goal at 14:09 of the third period and Andrew Ladd scored at 19:12.
Ramsay said he hopes the game is a learning experience.
"Sooner or later you're going to have a game that you just don't understand, and I hope they use it as a wakeup call," he said. "We're pretty good when we compete, when all four lines play, when everybody competes together in support of each other. Then we're pretty good. We've got to understand that our work ethic has to be there every game. We cannot play when we feel like it and we cannot take a period off. We must go in there and try to play 60 minutes a game."
Reimer is quickly becoming a bright spot for the Leafs. He entered the game with a 1-1-0 record and a 1.35 goals-against average and .957 save percentage. Reimer has started three of the Leafs' last four.
Asked if he is earning more starts, Wilson responded, "Yeah, for sure."
"It was fun to be on the other end of it," Reimer said of the Leafs' big night.
|Tobias Enstrom (8) Wrist shot - ASST: Ben Eager (7)|
1 - 0 ATL
|Kris Versteeg (12) Wrist shot - ASST: Colby Armstrong (4), Carl Gunnarsson (4)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Mikhail Grabovski (16) Wrist shot - ASST: Phil Kessel (12), Tomas Kaberle (24)|
2 - 1 TOR
|Colby Armstrong (5) Wrist shot - ASST: Kris Versteeg (17), Francois Beauchemin (8)|
3 - 1 TOR
|Nikolai Kulemin (14) Wrist shot - ASST: Mikhail Grabovski (15), Mike Komisarek (8)|
4 - 1 TOR
|Mikhail Grabovski (17) Wrist shot - ASST: Clarke MacArthur (21), Nikolai Kulemin (13)|
5 - 1 TOR
|PPG - Nikolai Kulemin (15) Snap shot - ASST: Tomas Kaberle (25)|
6 - 1 TOR
|PPG - Clarke MacArthur (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Nikolai Kulemin (14), Tomas Kaberle (26)|
7 - 1 TOR
|PPG - Clarke MacArthur (12) Tip-in - ASST: Kris Versteeg (18), Tomas Kaberle (27)|
8 - 1 TOR
|PPG - Phil Kessel (17) Wrist shot - ASST: Francois Beauchemin (9), Tyler Bozak (9)|
9 - 1 TOR
|Patrice Cormier (1) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
9 - 2 TOR
|Andrew Ladd (14) Wrist shot - ASST: Bryan Little (13), Niclas Bergfors (14)|
9 - 3 TOR
|Colton Orr Fighting (maj) against Eric Boulton|
|Eric Boulton Fighting (maj) against Colton Orr|
|Mike Komisarek Hooking against Rich Peverley|
|Ben Eager Cross checking against Dion Phaneuf|
|Ben Eager Roughing against Dion Phaneuf|
|Mikhail Grabovski Hooking against Tobias Enstrom|
|Dustin Byfuglien Roughing against Darryl Boyce|
|Ben Eager Match penalty against Dion Phaneuf|
|Dion Phaneuf Roughing against Ben Eager|
|Joey Crabb Hi stick - double minor against Dustin Byfuglien|