ATLANTA -- Call it another episode of "The Fear Factor."
That is Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay's explanation for his team's dominance in the season series against Southeast Division rival Washington.
He said it Wednesday morning, and he cited it again as an explanation after goalie Ondrej Pavelec's 36-save performance in a 1-0 victory over the Capitals at Philips Arena that gave Atlanta a 4-1-1 victory in the season series.
Pavelec has two of his three shutouts this season against the Capitals. In the Thrashers' final three games against Washington, Pavelec stopped 110 of 111 shots as Atlanta outscored the Capitals 9-1 in those games.
"Pav knows he's going to be in for a busy night," Ramsay said of playing Washington. "He knows he's facing the top guys and he just relishes that challenge."
Ramsay called the effort by his 23-year-old goalie, who entered the night fifth in the League in save percentage "brilliant."
It was a much-needed win for Atlanta. The Thrashers entered the night 1-4-3 in their past eight games and learned in recent days that All-Star defenseman Toby Enstrom, their leader in time on ice and co-leader in points, would miss several weeks with a broken finger. In addition, fellow All-Star defenseman and team points co-leader Dustin Byfuglien has gone 10 games without a point.
Besides Enstrom, other injured Thrashers are forwards Evander Kane and Jim Slater and back-up goalie Chris Mason.
"It was the time to step up," said Pavelec, who was pulled in Atlanta's 7-1 loss on Sunday at Tampa Bay after allowing three goals on 19 shots. "The last couple of games we didn't play well, and I didn't feel well in the net the past couple of games."
If the Thrashers had lost in regulation, division rival Carolina, which won 4-2 against the New York Islanders on Wednesday, would have passed them for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. The Canes still have two games in hand on Atlanta.
Yet for a night, the Thrashers earned a reprieve.
"It was just a great effort by so many guys and a chance to go into the break," Ramsay said, "and, hopefully, get yourself some rest and regroup mentally so that we come back and (make) a good push down the stretch."
The Thrashers took advantage of a second-period defensive zone turnover by Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz to earn the game-winner. Fredrik Modin jumped on the loose puck and Nik Antropov, with plenty of time as he cruised through the slot, went high glove on Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov (23 saves) at 11:21. Antropov has 2 goals and 3 assists in his last six games.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau was exasperated, even though his team entered the night having earned eight of a possible 10 points. He said he thought his team had 45 minutes of zone time and that Atlanta had but five good scoring chances the whole evening.
"You're trying so hard and you can't score goals," Boudreau said, complementing the effort of a lineup missing second-leading scorer Alexander Semin, who missed his ninth straight with an injury.
Boudreau was asked if he could attribute the lack of scoring to any one factor.
"I don't know," he said. "It's probably we got a lot of guys playing right now that aren't used to scoring a lot of goals and the guys are getting the great chances are the guys who maybe should be scoring the goals - they're not. I don't have answers. I can't go out and score. They're trying their (butts) off but, I mean, it's not going in. And their goalie played great. And I'm tired of saying it, but it's a lot of what happened."
Perhaps Pavelec's save of the night came with 48 seconds left in regulation and Varlamov on the bench for an extra attacker. High-scoring defenseman Mike Green was set up perfectly in the right circle but Pavelec gloved his wrister. As he skated behind the net after the save, Green swung his
stick in futility.
Atlanta, which entered with the League's 29th-ranked penalty kill, killed all three power plays by Washington, which has the No. 2 power play. Pavelec estimated that Washington had seven shots on its second-period man advantage. On that second-period power play, with Modin off for tripping Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin was staring at an open net but the puck bounced over his stick - the
type of play that has Boudreau searching for answers.
Ovechkin had eight shots on the night. Brooks Laich had seven.
"The guys block a lot of shots. PK was great. It was a key," Pavelec said. "… It was a little scrambly, especially on their power play in the second period. The guys make like four empty-net saves and that saved the game. They played great around the net. Sometimes you're just lucky but the guys did a great job. Like I said, a huge win for us."
Ramsay, who uncharacteristically shortened his bench to three lines because of the necessity to win but also the upcoming All-Star Break, talked about the team's "great competitive play."
"Things haven't gone well and we found a way," he said. "It wasn't pretty, but we found a way."