Back on Nov. 27 it was a five-goal final period that gave the Thrashers a 6-4 comeback victory at the RBC Center. On this night, star Ilya Kovalchuk scored just 44 seconds after the Canes had scored twice in a span of 1:10 to tie the score as Atlanta beat Carolina 5-3 Saturday night.
Eric Staal had a season-high 10 shots, but missed on a second-period penalty shot, and the Canes wasted another strong effort in net by Cam Ward by allowing one of the NHL’s best offensive teams way too much time and space.
“It was 3-on-3 on the rush and we can’t allow that guy that much room to get that shot off,” coach Paul Maurice said of Kovalchuk’s game-winner midway through the final period after Carolina knotted the game with a two-goal rally. “It wasn’t a bomb, but he has one of the best shots in the league and he picks his shots perfectly.”
“We just didn’t play good enough defense,” added Jussi Jokinen, who had a three-point night. “If you want to win in this league you have to hold teams to two goals or less.”
Jokinen had two goals, while Joni Pitkanen had his second three-assist game in a week, and while the Canes had been playing well as of late, losing home games in the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a formula to get back into the playoff race.
“We’ll battle as long as we have a chance to get into the playoffs, but we need a lot of wins here soon,” Jokinen said.
Carolina had a chance to take the lead with 11:54 left in the second period when Staal was awarded a penalty shot as he broke free and Vyacheslav Kozlov snapped his stick in half trying to track the right wing down from behind. However, Staal’s wrist shot attempt, trying to beat Ondrej Pavelec between the legs, was stopped and the scored remained 1-1.
Atlanta then scored twice in a span of 1:12 seven minutes after the penalty shot to grab a 3-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
Jokinen and Ray Whitney scored in short order midway through the third after Atlanta went down two men before Kovalchuk notched his 31st goal against the Canes in 46 career games.
Atlanta added a late empty netter as Carolina managed just one shot on goal over the final five minutes as Ward failed to tie Arturs Irbe for the most wins (130) in franchise history.
Ward, starting his 15th straight game, was under siege from the opening face-off as he made a nice stop on a point-blank shot seven seconds into the game by Evander Kane, which drew a slashing call against Pitkanen. While the Canes were able to kill off the penalty, Atlanta scored less than a minute later as Ward faced 11 shots in the opening 9:57 before Carolina began to skate with authority.
With the Canes on the power play late in the period a blue line to blue line pass from Pitkanen sent Jokinen in all alone on Pavelec and the breakaway ace didn’t miss to tie the score at 1-1.
Drayson Bowman started in his NHL debut and logged 10:23 of ice time with one shot on goal. The 20-year-old joins a growing list of players that includes Patrick Dwyer, Zach Boychuk, Brett Carson and Jiri Tlusty that have showed promise since called up from Albany.
“I thought for his first game Bowman was fine and he had a good chance in the slot and was feeling his way through,” Maurice said.
Bowman said he was surprised Maurice put him in the starting lineup, a shift that ended up lasting just seven seconds.
“I was pretty nervous actually, but it got the nerves out of the way pretty quickly,” Bowman said. “It was fun and I had a good time. I definitely enjoyed the experience, but you want to win.”
NOTES: Joe Corvo missed his 20th straight game while Erik Cole and Chad LaRose have sat out 17 in a row. … Rich Peverley now has four goals in six career games against Carolina. … Pitkanen has 16 points in his last 20 games and leads the Canes with 21 assists. … Staal had scored on his last three penalty shots dating back to Oct. 26, 2007, before missing against Atlanta. … Cole has drawn the most penalty shots (8) in franchise history. … Rod Brind’Amour moved within 50 games of 1,500 for his career.