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Thrashers ride early burst to 5-0 win against Caps

by John Manasso
ATLANTA -- Thrashers forward Nik Antropov, speaking collectively for his team’s play during a 1-5-1 stretch prior to Friday, said it best after a stalwart effort against League-leading Washington: “Enough is enough.”

Antropov, who began the day tied for the NHL's worst plus/minus rating at minus-13, and his line figured in three goals and Ondrej Pavelec's 29 saves shut out the Capitals for the first time since Dec. 9, 2009, beating the Caps 5-0 at Philips Arena. Atlanta improved to 2-1-1 against Washington this season and has handed the Capitals two of their five regulation losses.

The win broke a three-game losing streak for Atlanta (8-9-3) and also handed Washington its first regulation loss in 10 games (9-1-1) -- a loss that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau called "as bad of a defeat I think I have had since I’ve been here."

The strong showing for Atlanta came following a 2-1 home loss to Florida on Wednesday in which Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said his team quit during a horrendous stretch in the second period when the Thrashers surrendered the game-winning goal.

In the day between games, Ramsay, looking for the Thrashers to take greater charge of their locker room, named Andrew Ladd as captain. The response was impressive.

"Our guys played hard," said Ramsay, who questioned his team’s heart, commitment and courage after the poor second-period play on Wednesday. "We had a lot of shot blockers tonight. Guys were paying a price."

Antropov (1 goal, 1 assist), Ben Eager, who was benched for all but one shift of the third period on Wednesday but had a goal and an assist on Friday, and rookie Alexander Burmistrov (1 goal) each finished plus-3. That line earned the first two goals as the Thrashers jumped all over Washington for three goals in the first period, chasing starting goalie Braden Holtby 9:07 into the game after the rookie stopped just two of five shots.

On Saturday, the Capitals host Philadelphia, which entered Friday with the League's second-best record, so while Boudreau wasn't happy with his team's play, he wasn't distraught.

"We won't forget about it, but it's one game, not the end of the world," Boudreau said. "Probably as bad a defeat I think I have had since I've been here. We will regroup and come to bat again tomorrow."

Eager began his bid for redemption by scoring the game's first goal at 2:42 of the first period. Antropov started the play when he stretched his 6-foot-6 frame as high it would go to knock a puck out of the air with his hand and keep it in the offensive zone. He sent the puck into the corner, where Eager finished a check hard and dished the puck back to Antropov, then skated towards the net and redirected Antropov's shot-pass through Holtby's pads.

"We've had a couple of shaky games," Eager said. "The last three games haven't been great for me personally, but I just tried to stick to do what I do to be a good player. Just tried to go straight ahead and finish my checks. Great play by Antro right off the bat to find me in the slot and it was nice to see that puck go in."

Eager helped to set up the next goal on the forecheck. He won a battle along the left boards, shoveling the puck towards the goal with Burmistrov driving the net. Holtby dove to try and freeze the puck but missed it and came to Antropov, who calmly slid it past the out-of-position goaltender at 8:52.

The Thrashers struck again 15 seconds later when Washington turned the puck over behind its own net. Evander Kane skated around the goal and came out below the right circle. He threw the puck at the net and it deflected off a skate then ricocheted through the pads of Holtby, ending his night in only his fourth career appearance. Michal Neuvirth (29 saves) relieved him.

"Holtby struggled, as some young guys do, and they had a lot of confidence and they kept playing well," Boudreau said of Atlanta.

Late in the second period, Dustin Byfuglien, who missed most of Wednesday's game with a bruise after he took a shot off his right leg, showed off his skills as a former forward. On one rush, he flashed some speed and left a drop pass that was intercepted. On the same shift, Byfuglien stripped Tyler Sloan at center ice to score his sixth goal, the most in the League by a defenseman. Byfuglien skated in, stopped at the left circle with Washington's John Erskine between him and the goalie, and roofed a hot to the short side over Neuvirth's right shoulder with 50 seconds left in the period.

Burmistrov provided the icing on the cake, scoring a highlight-reel goal, as he undressed defenseman Jeff Schultz and faked Neuvirth out of the goal with 2:43 left in regulation.

Pavelec made the rest stand up. Ramsay noted how Pavelec, who has stopped 61 of the last 63 shots he has faced, was seeing pucks through some difficult screens. Pavelec praised his team, believing that his penalty-killers did not allow a single shot on three power plays.

"It doesn't matter how you beat them, but we find a way to get the two points tonight," Pavelec said. "It's always nice to have a shutout, but most important are the two points against one of the best teams in the NHL."

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