-- It's a victory that will probably go down as the most memorable in the young career of Atlanta Thrashers
goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
Despite the fact his adrenaline had to be percolating as he watched his boyhood idol, Martin Brodeur
, stand in front of the cage at the other end, Pavelec was as cool as a cucumber.
"I was like 'Wow', I'm playing against Martin Brodeur
and it was a dream come true," the third-year goaltender told NHL.com.
Once the game started, Pavelec entered the proverbial "goalie zone." The Czech Republic native turned away 28 shots, including all 15 he faced in the opening period, on the way to a 4-2 victory over New Jersey before 14,187 on Friday at Prudential Center.
"Personally, this was a huge win for me, for sure," said Pavelec, who has started Atlanta's opening four games in place of injured starter Kari Lehtonen (back). "Martin is the best goaltender in the League and he's going to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto some day. New Jersey was actually my favorite team growing up because Martin Brodeur
was my idol. He's played in the NHL for so long and every year, he continues to be the best."
The loss was the third straight on home ice for the Devils. The club dropped their opening two games at Prudential Center before winning three straight on the road last week. New Jersey will now look to notch that first victory in front of the hometown faithful on Saturday when it plays host to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Thrashers travel to Buffalo to meet the Sabres on Saturday.
Pavelec wasn't the only young star of the night, either. The Thrashers opened a 3-1 lead six minutes into the third period on goals by rookie Evander Kane and fourth-year forward Rich Peverley before the Devils pared the margin to one on Zach Parise
's second of the season with 6:50 remaining in the third. Peverley finished with a pair of power-play goals as the Thrashers finished 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
"I think we have a tremendous amount of skill and depth on this team, but if we don't work hard we can be beaten," Peverley said. "When we are putting in the work, we're a tough team to beat and we proved that in the second and the third periods."
Kane's goal to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead just 1:36 into the third was a thing of beauty. The 19-year-old forward, taken fourth in this year's Entry Draft, chipped the puck past Devils defenseman Johnny Oduya along the left-wing boards before cruising into the circle and unleashing a rope that whisked past Brodeur (15 saves) to the long side.
"That must have been a special moment for Evander to score a goal like that on Marty," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "I'm sure he'll remember that one for a long time. I thought he was one of our sparks tonight with his skating and getting pucks out of our zone."
Kane, who has averaged over 13 minutes of ice time per game alongside Peverley and Colby Armstrong this season, was also whistled for two penalties in the game.
"Evander's got so much speed and that goal was big because it gave us the early lead in the third," said Peverley, who would give Atlanta a 3-1 edge on a power-play goal 5:55 into the third.
The Devils were presented a golden opportunity to tie the contest when Zach Bogosian was whistled for holding with less than five minutes remaining but that's when Chris Thorburn sent the hometown fans to the exits with a spectacular individual effort. After retrieving the puck in the slot during a scramble that left Brodeur out of position, Thornburn swept a shot past the goalie while on the seat of his pants. New Jersey finished 0-for-6 with the man advantage.
"Pavs was incredible in net and we didn't come to play in the first but he kept us in there," Peverley said. "That was a big moment for us right there. Maybe it was the fact we were coming off five days' rest (the Thrashers had last played on Oct. 10), but we didn't have much energy in the first. We began to create a lot more chances in the second and third periods."
Following a scoreless first period in which the Devils outshot the Thrashers, 15-4, they got the early edge in the second. The red-hot Travis Zajac
gave the Devils a 1-0 lead at 8:07 on his fourth of the season off a wrist shot from between the circles.
The Thrashers eventually evened the score with 5:03 showing in the second when a perfectly-stationed Peverley converted a rebound of a right-circle whistler by Maxim Afinogenov in front of a helpless Brodeur. The goal, Peverley's third of the season, came on the power play.
The Thrashers were given another power play late in the frame but Brodeur stood tall -- closing out Atlanta's man advantage with a pair of big saves off the sticks of Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov with less than two minutes showing.
Both teams appeared rusty in the opening five minutes before the Devils began gaining the territorial edge. If not for Pavelec, who has started all four games for Atlanta, the home team might have had a decided advantage on the scoreboard. Pavelec stopped all 15 shots in the first and looked sharp despite his team's five-day layoff.
"It wasn't a great period, but it's one that we have to come away with a goal or two there," Parise said. "But regardless of whether we scored or not, we just kind of let them back in it in the second period. We got ourselves on trouble, and our power play wasn't good enough tonight. That was the big difference: they scored on theirs and we didn't. We didn't really get great chances on ours."
In addition to stopping all four shots taken by Parise in the first, defenseman Paul Martin generated a quality chance off a hard slapper from the right point that Pavelec steered away with the left pad. Actually, it was a recurring theme for Pavelec throughout the first as the Devils were in search of rebounds that never materialized -- the third-year goalie did a fine job of directing pucks away from the crease.
"The guys did a great job clearing the rebounds in front of me so it made it easier," Pavelec said.
Thrashers coach John Anderson was extremely pleased with the effort.
"The Devils are a really well-coached team so this was a nice win for us," Anderson said. "We really haven't had too much success here in the past and you see all the championship banners up in this arena. We knew we would be in a tough game coming in here."
--Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com