While it didn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth like Saturday night’s third-period collapse in Philadelphia, the result wasn’t any more satisfying.
Blake Wheeler netted the decider in the third round of the shootout, as the Atlanta Thrashers took a 4-3 decision over the Philadelphia Flyers at Philips Arena on Thursday night.
Rob Schremp tallied to start the second round, but it was Wheeler’s odd score which eventually ended the contest after a Danny Briere miss.
Wheeler skated in from an angle just to the right of center ice, then lost control of the puck as he neared the crease. Brian Boucher inexplicably failed to follow the play, and Wheeler was able to regain control and slide the shot home.
Tim Stapleton, Bryan Little and Nik Antropov tallied for the Thrashers, who have won four of six and topped the Flyers for the second time in five days.
Ondrej Pavelec made 21 stops for the victory.
“The rest of the season is gonna be playoff-style hockey,” said the Atlanta netminder of the stretch run. “All huge games for us. Now we go to Buffalo for another big game, another battle. Our guys had some great moves in the shootout, and made it easier for me to stop one puck. Big win for us.”
Briere scored twice and Claude Giroux once for the Flyers, who had won three of four coming in. Boucher ended up losing after making 22 saves.
Despite the setback, the Eastern Conference leaders extended their edge to two points over idle Washington (94-92) thanks to a point for losing beyond regulation.
Pavelec kept the game scoreless with a glove stop on a partial breakaway from Braydon Coburn with just over six minutes played, and his acumen was rewarded when Stapleton put the Thrashers on the board at 6:59 of the first period, when he snuck a low shot from the right wing through Boucher’s pads.
Giroux evened the game at 9:20, when he finished off a passing play between Matt Carle and Briere by scoring inside the right post.
Little was untouched in front to chip a Ron Hainsey rebound over a fallen Boucher at 4:35 of the second period, but Briere tapped a loose puck inside the near post with 5 1/2 to play in the second for a 2-2 tie.
All the work to keep the game on an even keel went for naught, however, as Antropov ripped a shot home from the hashmarks with 2:08 left and Atlanta led by one after 40 minutes.
Philly killed off two consecutive Atlanta power plays around the midway point of the third, then Scott Hartnell missed a wide-open net off a diving dish from Ville Leino with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
Briere eventually netted the equalizer, beating Pavelec to a rebound from inside the crease despite Dustin Byfuglien’s tight checking with 1:28 to go.
“There’s not a big difference between a playoff team and a non-playoff team,” Briere said. “We have to bring it every night. We were playing another desperate team. They deserved what they got tonight. On our side, we’re missing a little something, some zip. Nobody had that little extra jump.”
Notes: Atlanta has won two of three over Philadelphia this season, and six of the last seven meetings since the start of last year…The Thrashers improved to 4-7 in shootouts this season and the Flyers fell to 2-4…Briere reached the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his career and the first since a 31-goal year with Buffalo in 2006-07.