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Atlanta thrashes Caps

by John Kreiser

John Anderson's stomach “was not good” before his first game as an NHL coach. His Atlanta Thrashers gave him the best possible medicine.

The Thrashers scored the game's first three goals, saw the Washington Capitals come back to tie the game at 4-4, then scored three times in a 2:10 span late in the third period for a 7-4 victory that made Anderson a winner in his NHL coaching debut.

Bryan Little broke a 4-4 tie at 13:57 of the third period with his second goal of the night. Colby Armstrong beat Brent Johnson 29 seconds later and Todd White added a power-play goal at 16:07.

The Thrashers were 1-5 in the preseason, leaving Anderson with the impression that the lessons he was trying to teach weren't getting through.

"With so many new guys and so many different things we are doing out there, it's hard to change the things the guys are used to doing," Anderson said. "It's a work in progress, but the way we are scoring goals, that’s what I’ve been trying to talk about all summer."

The Thrashers, who started 0-6 last season, stunned the Caps, the sellout crowd and maybe even themselves by racing out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Ron Hainsey, Marty Reasoner and Bryan Little in the first 13:48. After goals by Alexander Semin and Dave Steckel cut the lead to 3-2, Slava Kozlov's power-play goal pushed the lead back to two goals and sent Caps goalie Jose Theodore to the bench.

"The last thing you want to do is pull your goalie on opening night," said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who called the fourth goal allowed by Theodore "pretty weak."

"We were still in the game at that time," Boudreau said of the goaltending change. "I thought Brent would give us a lift, and he did for the next 20 minutes or so."

The goalie change gave the Caps a temporary boost — Mike Green scored two power-play goals in 52 seconds to even the game at 4-4 after two periods. Washington had a golden chance to take the lead when Alex Ovechkin was awarded a penalty shot 4:01 into the third period, only to be denied by Kari Lehtonen.

Little, a 20-year-old, broke the tie with a shot from the right circle. Armstrong blasted a slap shot from the right circle past Johnson 29 seconds later and White converted Ilya Kovalchuk's pass for a power-play goal.

The Thrashers won their opener one year after that 0-6 start led to a last-place finish in the Southeast Division.

"The way we started last year we wanted to come out and get our first win of the season with our first game," Little said, adding the opener against the defending Southeast Division champs "could not have gone any better."

Boudreau called the loss “unacceptable.”

"There were too many guys not doing their job," said Boudreau, one of Anderson's best friends and a fellow longtime minor-league coach. "When you don’t do your job, anyone can score seven goals."

Johnson said he hadn't expected to replace Theodore.

"You don’t want to be in that position," Johnson said. "You don't want that to happen to your partner."

Hurricanes 6, Panthers 4 | VIDEO 

The Caps and Thrashers weren't the only Southeast Division teams that threw defense to the wind. Carolina spotted Florida an early two-goal lead before rallying to win its season-opener at the RBC Center.

Newcomer Joni Pitkanen put Carolina ahead to stay at 14:46 of the second period when he took a feed from Tim Gleason in the left circle and snapped the puck past Tomas Vokoun to break a 3-3 tie. Dan LaCouture, a 31-year-old who played in Switzerland last year and made the Hurricanes as a free agent, made it a two-goal game at 3:32 of the third by beating Vokoun with a wrist shot.

"I'm just happy I was able to contribute — it ended up being the game-winning goal," LaCouture said. "The biggest thing is we won the game and I'm happy I was able to contribute in some way."

Nathan Horton made it a one-goal game with a power-play goal at 11:31, but Matt Cullen scored into the empty net with 26.4 seconds left as the Hurricanes spoiled Peter DeBoer's debut as Florida coach and won a season-opener at home for the first time since 2001.

Vokoun finished with just 18 saves.

"I just didn't make enough saves," Vokoun said. "We outplayed them. We just have to clean up some stuff. ... It wasn't my best game (but) we definitely played well enough to win tonight."

The Panthers, whose 4-1 season-ending victory at Carolina wound up keeping the Hurricanes out of the playoffs, started out like they were going to make it two in a row in Raleigh. Goals by David Booth and Cory Stillman in the first 8:07 made it 2-0.

"We were very anxious and nervous, and a lot of hype went into this game, from playing them the last game of last season, so we were maybe a little too nervous, too fired up," forward Ray Whitney said. "And sometimes when you're doing that, you get a little jittery — you'll see that in football, guys get a little anxious and the offsides come, the mental mistakes, and that's what it was tonight."

But the Hurricanes ran off three goals in the next 17 minutes to take the lead.

"It was the perfect game plan to quiet the building," DeBoer said, "until they came back at us."

Tuomo Ruutu redirected Dennis Seidenberg's slap shot past Vokoun at 10:29, and Whitney beat him with a wrist shot from the slot at 17:25. Rod Brind'Amour put Carolina up at 6:35 of the second period by tapping a loose puck past Vokoun for a power-play goal. Radek Dvorak tied it 3-3 at 13:10 with a high wrist shot past Cam Ward.


Rangers 4, Blackhawks 2 | VIDEO

The Rangers looked every bit as good in their home opener as they had in beating Tampa Bay twice last weekend in Prague in Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008. Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and two assists as the Rangers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1989-90.

The line of Dubinsky and newcomers Aaron Voros and Nikolai Zherdev accounted for three of the Rangers' four goals.

"I certainly liked that line tonight, as I'm sure every Rangers fan did," coach Tom Renney said of the new threesome. "You could see that with the sum of their parts they could play as they did tonight, and it came together nicely."

Dubinsky set up the Rangers' go-ahead goal at 5:15 of the second period when he stripped the puck from Chicago center Dave Bolland and sent a quick pass to Voros for a one-timer from one knee that gave New York a 2-1 edge.

The Rangers made it 3-1 at 15:36 when Dubinsky picked up a loose puck, raced into the slot and roofed a shot over Cristobal Huet into the top right corner. He has two goals this season, both game-winners.

"I want to be that player that fans like because I'm willing to put it on the line every night for my teammates," said the 22-year-old Dubinsky, who's in his second NHL season. "That's kind of my M.O."

The Hawks gave Huet a five-year contract during the summer. They'll need better performances from him to meet the high expectations that have accompanied the franchise's improvement.

"I'm disappointed to lose the first game," Huet said. "We made some mistakes, and I didn't help the team at the moment they needed me."

Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith made it 3-2 at 7:12 of the third period, but Zherdev snapped a shot past Huet at 9:33 after passes from Voros and Dubinsky.v

A third newcomer, Wade Redden, gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 6:47 into the game when he pounded a long rebound past Huet. Patrick Kane tied it at 17:18 after an end-to-end rush by defenseman Brian Campbell. Chicago's biggest offseason signing bounded a pass off the side of the net and right to an onrushing Kane, who buried it into the short side.

"That was a great play," Kane said. "That's why he was brought in here."

Lundqvist improved to 3-0 with 30 saves. He has allowed just four goals in the three wins as the rebuilt Rangers continued their hot start.

"It's real important for the new guys to feel as comfortable as soon as possible," Lundqvist said. "When they are playing like this, it's a lot easier to get comfortable. And it’s great to see that all of the guys are working really hard to get into the new system and get the wins early on."

Sabres 2, Canadiens 1 (SO) | VIDEO

Buffalo's 4-9 record in shootouts was a key reason the Sabres missed the playoffs last season, so beginning their season at home with a shootout win was a great way to spoil the start of their Northeast Division rival's 100th season.

Montreal's Robert Lang scored 2:58 into the game and Buffalo's Thomas Vanek tied it at 7:40. Those were the only pucks to enter the net until Ales Kotalik and Drew Stafford scored against Carey Price in the shootout. Ryan Miller stopped Lang and Saku Koivu missed the net after Stafford's goal.

"It's a good step and a good statement for us," Kotalik said. "If we won more of the shootouts last year than we did, we might have found ourselves in the playoffs."

Kotalik now has scored 13 times on 26 career shootout attempts, and many of them have come in similar fashion. He raced in, faked a shot from 10 feet out and drove to the left to backhand a shot behind price. Stafford scored in similar fashion, but roofed his shot just inside the crossbar.

"I'm not nervous in shootouts," he said. "I knew if I did it right, I might be lucky enough to get it behind him."

The Canadiens had a goal waved off with 4:40 remaining, when Andrei Markov banked his point shot off the right post following a faceoff deep in the Sabres' end. Referee Ian Walsh disallowed the goal by calling an interference penalty on Canadiens forward Guillaume Latendresse, who upended a Buffalo player attempting to race out to the point.

Lang opened the scoring on Montreal's first shot on net. Tom Kostopoulos' shot from the blue line was partially blocked, and the puck dribbled to Lang in the right circle, where the forward snapped a shot over Miller.

Vanek tied it on a great individual play following a neutral-zone turnover. He drove up the left side, patiently waited for Markov to slide past him, and stepped into the slot to beat Price.

"We didn't hand them any chances," forward Jason Pominville said. "I think we limited their chances on the rush, and (Miller) played great. It was a good start for our team."

The Canadiens managed a point, but lacked finish for a team that won the Eastern Conference regular-season title last season. It wasn't quite what they had in mind for opening their centennial season.

"Anniversary or not, every season you try to get off to a good start," Lang said. "Good starts come in handy around Christmas and at the end of the year. You never know when you'll need them."

Coach Guy Carbonneau wasn't too upset.

"We lost in a shootout. I can't say I'm unhappy about the game," he said.

The only bad news for the Sabres: Coach Lindy Ruff revealed that center Tim Connolly is out indefinitely after tests showed he has a hairline fracture of a vertebra.

Blues 5, Predators 2 | VIDEO

St. Louis had the NHL's worst power play last season. The Blues are off to a good start in avoiding a repeat after connecting four times with the man advantage to win a season-opener for the first time since 1996.

Keith Tkachuk had two of the four power-play goals as the Blues scored four times with the man advantage for the first time since Jan. 1, 2004. They needed 24 power plays over five games to get four last season.

Brad Boyes and David Backes also scored with the man advantage for the Blues, while Barrett Jackman had their only score at even strength. Ryan Suter and Joel Ward had goals for Nashville.

With their best defenseman, Erik Johnson, gone for the season with a knee injury, the Blues are using five forwards on the power play. For one night, it worked perfectly.

"It's an experiment and it's working right now," Tkachuk said. "We're getting more shots, that's the key. Special teams win you games."

Nashville wasn't prepared for the power-play onslaught.

"They really changed it up and kept us guessing a little," goalie Dan Ellis said. "We couldn't keep up."

Suter put the Preds ahead at 2:03, finishing off a 3-on-1 break.

"I thought we had the momentum, and everything just fell apart," coach Barry Trotz said.

Tkachuk scored his first goal at 12:45, beating Ellis on a one-timer, and Jackman put the Blues ahead to stay 33 seconds later. Boyes, Tkachuk and Backes added power-play goals in the second period as the Blues went 4-for-6 with the extra man to end an 0-6-2-2 drought on opening night.

Goalie Manny Legace said the players were inspired by a raucous sellout crowd during pregame ceremonies.

"The guys were just all fired up," Legace said. "If we can play to that intensity every single night, I like our chances."

Blue Jackets 5, Stars 4 (OT) | VIDEO

Rick Nash's goal with 20 seconds left in overtime gave the Blue Jackets a win in Dallas after Columbus blew a two-goal lead in the last 3:18 of regulation.

Nash took a pass from Jason Chimera, moved into the slot and ripped a shot past Marty Turco to give the Jackets their fourth win in their last five visits to American Airlines Center, spoiling the Stars' 15th opening night in Dallas. It was his 155th career goal and 25th game-winner, both franchise records.

''It was a good pass ... I got it, closed my eyes and fired away,'' said Nash, the first pick in the 2002 Entry Draft. ''We showed a lot of character to come back.''

Kristian Huselius, Andy Murray and Derick Brassard scored in the first 7:17 of the third period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead. But Brad Richards made it 4-3 with 3:18 left and Trevor Daley forced overtime when he beat Pascal Leclaire through a screen 33 seconds later.

''We found a way to get back in the game and get a point,'' coach Dave Tippett said. ''We'll take the point, that's for sure. But in actual fact, I look at the whole scope of the game. I didn't see enough consistency in our group in how we played to feel good about the game.''

Jakub Voracek, a 19-year-old right wing who was Columbus' first-round pick in 2007, scored a goal in his NHL debut. His shot at 15:53 of the first period whizzed past Turco and then ricocheted back toward the right circle; the goal wasn't awarded until a couple of minutes after that following a video replay review.

Dallas took the first 15 shots of the second period and took the lead on goals by Brenden Morrow and rookie James Neal.

''It was a game that probably had more ebbs and flows in it than any one we've been involved in in a long time,'' Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The Stars opened the 15th anniversary season of their move from Minnesota to Texas, with original Dallas players Neal Broten, Craig Ludwig, Andy Moog and Shane Churla taking part in a pregame ceremony. Dallas won the 1999 Stanley Cup with Hitchcock, who opened his third season as Columbus' coach.

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.


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