ATLANTA (AP) - Small mistakes look big for teams trying to make up ground in the playoff standings this late in the season.
According to New York Islanders coach Brad Shaw, the costliest error in his team's 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers Thursday night was a short-handed goal in an otherwise scoreless opening period.
The goal, by Marian Hossa, gave the Thrashers a lead they never lost in improving their playoff chances. Atlanta moved one point behind eighth-place Montreal, which lost to Carolina 5-1 Thursday night, in the Eastern Conference.
The loss dropped the 10th-place Islanders four points behind Atlanta. On a night neither team managed a power-play goal, Shaw blamed the loss on the short-handed goal.
"The short-handed goal really killed us," Shaw said. "We were struggling on the power play and when you're not scoring and the other team scores on (the short-handed play), it is a big shot in the arm for their confidence."
Added Shaw: "If it is nothing to nothing after the first period, I like our chances."
Atlanta won for the eighth time in 10 games and snapped the Islanders' four-game winning streak.
"This game was important," Hossa said. "They are pushing us. The win allows us to escape from them and almost catch the team ahead of us. It's a win-win situation for us."
Kari Lehtonen continued his strong goaltending with 28 saves for Atlanta. Lehtonen has won nine of his last 12 games to keep the Thrashers in the race for their first playoff berth.
"When you have a goalie like Kari back there, you know that if you play good defense you keep the team on the outside," said Andy Sutton, who scored the Thrashers' second goal.
"He is going to stop anything that comes his way. There is definite confidence back there."
New York played for the first time without top defenseman Alexi Zhitnik, who is lost for the season after breaking his left ankle in Tuesday night's win over New Jersey. The Islanders also lost forward Arron Asham for up to four weeks with a sprained ankle Tuesday night.
Before the teams combined for four goals in the first 8 minutes of the second period, a low-scoring game seemed probable.
Atlanta allowed an average of only 2.11 goals per game in its previous nine games, and New York gave up only one goal in each of its four straight wins.
Hossa's short-handed goal came on a breakaway at 15:41 of the first period to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead. Rick DiPietro left the net in an attempt to stop Hossa after the Thrashers forward skated past defenseman Radek Martinek. Hossa scored with an unassisted wrist shot past the lunging DiPietro.
The goal came less than a minute after a slashing penalty on Atlanta's Bobby Holik.
Sutton's fourth goal of the season pushed the lead to 2-0 just 1:26 into the second period, sparking a sudden scoring flurry.
Shawn Bates scored on a pass from Martinek for the Islanders' first goal at 3:07. Exactly 1 minute later, Scott Mellanby restored the Thrashers' two-goal lead.
Alexei Yashin's 22nd goal for New York cut the lead to 3-2, but Lehtonen shut out the Islanders the rest of the way.
Hossa just missed on an opportunity for a second short-handed goal when his putback hit the post. Despite the premature horn and celebration from Thrashers fans, the shot with less than 7 minutes left in the second period didn't enter the net.
The third period was scoreless until the final minute, when the Islanders pulled DePietro and Holik scored an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left.
The Thrashers, 18-12-4 at home, matched their most home wins in a season.
Notes: There was a pregame video tribute and a moment of silence observed for Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, the hockey Hall of Famer who was an Atlanta resident and first coach of the Atlanta Flames. Geoffrion died Saturday, the day his jersey was retired by the Montreal Canadiens. ... The teams combined for four goals and no penalties in the first eight minutes of the second period. ... The Islanders were denied their first five-game winning streak since a six-game streak Dec. 21-31, 2003.