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Thrashers overcome loss of goalie, beat Caps 4-2

by John Manasso

ATLANTA -- Tested in one the most difficult kinds of situations, the Atlanta Thrashers showed in their home opener that their new acquisitions are paying off already.

With starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec collapsing to the ice after losing consciousness just 2:25 into the game, the Thrashers struggled to reach first intermission tied at 1-1 with the Washington Capitals.

But at that point, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, one of four Stanley Cup champions the Thrashers acquired from Chicago in the offseason, spoke up and helped to inspire the Thrashers to a 4-2 victory before 15,596 at Philips Arena over the 2010 Presidents Trophy winner.

"I think, you know, we got through the first period and that was the hardest thing," said goalie Chris Mason, who replaced Pavelec after the 23-year-old Czech native was taken off on a stretcher. "It was really tough even focusing on playing a game and having that killer instinct and that game mentality when you can't stop thinking about your teammate.

"But after the first period we got an update [that Pavelec was awake and alert] and Buff said over there, 'Let's do it for Pavs' kind of thing -- and all of the boys got kind of pumped out and we went out and played a great game."

Evander Kane scored twice for Atlanta, including one on a penalty shot, and Mason made 29 saves to lift the Thrashers to new coach Craig Ramsay's first victory after a winless preseason.

Asked how a team responds in a situation like that, Ramsay responded that "It takes courage and some leadership."

"We called them over and just talked about the fact that would [Pavelec] like us to fold up our tent and go home?" Ramsay said after the game was delayed about 20 minutes. "And the obvious answer is no. I thought the players responded extremely well and I thought our goalie went in and was just wonderful.

"It was great to me. It showed the character of a good group of guys."

Asked about why he spoke up, Byfuglien was self-effacing.

"Oh, it wasn't really anything," he said. "I might've been the first one to jump on it and say something and everyone was kind of like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' and I thought we played very well."

It was a rough start for the Capitals, who are still smarting from an opening-round playoff loss to Montreal that ruined their brilliant regular season.

"We did not play our game at all," captain Alex Ovechkin said.

Washington needed just 53 seconds to score after play resumed following the delay. The Caps took advantage of the Thrashers' failure to backcheck; Alexander Semin played tic-tac-toe with Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich, who deposited the puck in an empty net.

But Kane tied it at 7:57 when he scored an unassisted goal, beating Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) from the high slot with a laser of a wrist shot.

"A lot of people worried about us not winning a game during preseason but we had all the confidence in the room to know that we were a better team and can win and we showed that tonight," said Kane, 19 and coming off a strong rookie season.

Andrew Ladd, another player the Thrashers acquired from Chicago, put the Thrashers ahead 2-1 with 4:17 left in the second. Ladd's line, centered by Bryan Little with right wing Niclas Bergfors, kept sustained pressure in Washington's end and Ladd, stationed in the front of the net, deflected a shot from the right point by defenseman Johnny Oduya.

Kane made it 3-1 on a penalty shot after Washington defenseman Mike Green was called for closing his hand on the puck in the crease at 18:54 of the second.

The Caps rallied to make it 3-2 in the third when the Thrashers had a breakdown, leading to a 2-on-1 in which Ovechkin set up Mike Knuble for a goal at 8:16. But veteran Fredrik Modin, making his debut as a Thrasher, scored with exactly 5:00 left to seal it.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said the Thrashers "just outworked us."

"You get rewarded when you out work teams," said Boudreau, whose team was 0-for-3 on the power play. "They outworked us and they got rewarded."

On Saturday, the Thrashers visit Tampa Bay - where Ramsay was associate coach when the Lightning won the 2004 Cup and Modin also was a part of that squad. The new coach called the win a confidence builder.

"It should be, absolutely," he said. "Again, I think we had 18 chances per game the last two games but we didn't score, we didn't win. Now this time they were rewarded and everyone wants to be rewarded. It feels good when you work hard and you have success.

"I've said it before: Success breeds success. Winning is a learned skill. That's a step forward for us, a really big forward step."

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