ATLANTA - The Thrashers had a new coach, and something else was different: They won.
One day after Bob Hartley was fired, Atlanta scored two goals in the first 6?? minutes, overcame an injury to goalie Kari Lehtonen and finally picked up its first victory of the season, beating the New York Rangers 5-3 Thursday night.
"It's a good start for us," said backup goalie Johan Hedberg, who took over in the first period after Lehtonen went out. "But we're still far, far away from where we want to be."
The Thrashers lost their first six games, leaving them as the only winless team in the NHL and prompting general manager Don Waddell to fire Hartley before the season totally fell apart.
The GM is serving as interim coach, just as he did after dismissing the only other coach in franchise history, Curt Fraser. Waddell urged the defending Southeast Division champs to forget about the first two weeks and treat it as the start of a new season.
Well, this opening night turned out much better than the last one.
Pascal Dupuis put the Thrashers ahead 4:21 into the game, and Slava Kozlov stuffed the puck past Henrik Lundqvist during a two-man advantage just over two minutes later. Todd White added a short-handed goal midway through the second period, and the Rangers never recovered.
"We haven't played from the lead," Waddell said. "It was important to get the crowd into the game. We could have had four goals in the first period."
Lehtonen stopped eight shots before going out with 8???? minutes left in the first, having injured his troublesome groin again. A similar problem in the 2005-06 season sidelined the Finn for more than two months, and Waddell did not sound hopeful of a quick recovery this time either.
"Certainly, he'll be out a while," the interim coach said.
Hedberg took over in net with a 2-0 lead and kept the Rangers off the board until they scored three power-play goals in the final 10:23.
The Thrashers had actually lost 10 in a row, going back to last season's playoffs. The Rangers swept Atlanta in the opening round, a stunning end that seemed to carry over into the new season.
But the coaching change inspired the Thrashers, with Waddell vowing to play his stars more and not be quite as demanding as the autocratic Hartley. At the first intermission, the new coach stood next to the tunnel, patting each player as they headed off with a 2-0 lead.
"It's always been my nature when I'm coaching," Waddell said. "I wear my emotions on my sleeve."
Atlanta jumped ahead after Lehtonen made a big save on Michal Rozsival at the side of the net and the Thrashers took off the other way with a 3-on-2. The Rangers knocked the puck behind the net, but Brad Larsen picked it up and made a backhanded, no-look pass to Dupuis all alone in front of the net. He ripped a shot past Lundqvist before the goalie had time to budge.
"We started the game on the right foot," Dupuis said. "Seeing that first goal really helped."
Then, just 11 seconds into a two-man advantage, Marian Hossa got the puck along the goal line and flipped a pass across the crease to Kozlov standing by himself. He stuffed it in for his second goal of the season, with Lundqvist again left helpless.
White added to the lead with a great effort while the Thrashers were short-handed in the second period. First, he knocked the puck away from Chris Drury at the blue line, then passed off to Eric Perrin to set up a 2-on-1.
Perrin passed back to White, whose blistering shot was stopped by Lundqvist. But the puck slipped out from under the goalie's pads while he was sprawled face down on the ice. White spotted it first, tucking it around the post before the Rangers could react.
Lundqvist slammed his stick off the goal in disgust after getting up.
"It looks like it's impossible for our team to get a fast start," Lundqvist said. "They got momentum. We had to play on our heels."
The teams went back and forth in the third. Rookie Bryan Little and Marian Hossa scored for Atlanta, twice giving the Thrashers a four-goal lead. Dan Girardi, Brendan Shanahan and Scott Gomez had late goals for New York.
Things also got ugly in the final period, especially after Atlanta defenceman Garnet Exelby delivered a vicious though legal hit to Petr Prucha right in front of the benches.
Hossa and New York's Colton Orr both picked up unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Atlanta's Steve McCarthy fought with Ryan Hollweg, and Shanahan tried to get at Exelby with just over a minute to go and had to be dragged away by a linesman.
"You always build rivalries after you play a team in the playoffs," Waddell said. "There's no love lost on either side."
Notes: Lehtonen wasn't the only Atlanta player to go down. D Tobias Enstrom smashed into the boards after getting a cross check from Martin Straka in the second period. Enstrom was helped to the locker room and had a knee X-rayed, but he returned to the game in the third period. ... Waddell's first game as interim coach produced the same result as his last stint behind the bench. Atlanta beat Carolina 5-3 a day after Fraser was fired in December 2002. Waddell went 4-5-1 as coach before hiring Hartley.