ATLANTA — The effort was there. The offense was there. But the result the Atlanta Thrashers wanted — a win — remained a back leg save away.
In the most anticipated game Atlanta had all season, it fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Chicago Blackhawks at a pro-Chicago Philips Arena Saturday night.
“I thought we showed a lot of heart out there battling a team like that and it was an exciting game to play in,” said defenseman Zach Bogosian. “With all the attention from the big trade, it was an exciting game and I thought we responded well every time they put a puck in the back of the net. It was a very even game and I thought we evenly matched up the whole game and I think a shootout was the way to end it.”
The big trade, of course, was a series of two trades that brought Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager and Andrew Ladd from Chi-town to Blueland over the summer and had this game circled in bright red pen.
And it can finally be put to bed.
“It’s been a big buildup for a long time and now its over and done with and we can move forward,” Sopel said. “Obviously as a team we were looking forward to this to and we wanted to prove to the league that we can play with these teams, we just need to put forth the proper effort and we did that tonight.”
After the first two periods turned into a track meet, both teams tightened up the hatches in the third period, as the game remained tied at 4-4 heading into the shootout.
Atlanta’s Rich Peverley nearly gave his team the win in the third round as he had Chicago goalie Marty Turco (33 saves) beaten only to see his shot hit Turco’s back leg and bounce wide.
Head coach Craig Ramsay gave Byfuglien a chance in the fifth round only to have Turco pokecheck the puck and to see Viktor Stalberg win it with a backhand roof-shot over Ondrej Pavelec, who fell to 0-6 all-time in shootouts.
“They are 50-50,” the Thrashers keeper, 36 saves, said of playing in shootouts. “We played a great game and I think we deserved to win.”
Following their last two lackluster performances, the Thrashers (6-5-3, 15 points) focused on playing an up-tempo and aggressive game for 60 minutes. And for one night, they accomplished that.
“Great effort,” Ramsay said. “We battled, we chased, we skated, we really looked like our team again. We looked like we had speed and we put a lot of pressure on their defense.”
“I thought we had a full team effort and we played together and it was an exciting game to be in,” added Bogosian. “We just need to bring that emotion every night and we’ll be tough to beat.”
Despite hanging with Chicago all night, Atlanta knows they must play better overall. In the second period especially, some players got caught on long shifts and the penalty kill allowed goals on both opportunities.
“We had some breakdowns where we got trapped in but overall we didn’t give as many odd man rushes and we closed in on them,” Ramsay said. “It can better and it has to get better, but we were more aggressive.”
The Thrashers struck first on the power play when Nik Antropov lasered home a wrist shot after strong puck movement by defenseman Toby Enstrom.
The lead was short lived however, as Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews (2 goals, 2 assists) recovered a shot from Brent Seabrook that bounced off the endboards and put it into the net. Patrick Kane gave the Blackhawks their first lead of the game on another power play goal with assists from Toews and Patrick Sharp.
Even though the Thrashers trailed at the end of the first, they played with much more intensity than in Thursday’s lackluster loss to Columbus.
Thrashers forward Evander Kane evened the score early in the second on another power play goal with Bogosian and Niclas Bergfors assisting.
The Thrashers kept the pressure on Chicago with a strong next shift with a relentless forecheck and took a 3-2 lead 55 seconds later on the effort of rookie Alex Burmistrov.
After receiving a pass from Fredrik Modin, the rookie cut into the middle of the ice and ripped a shot that hit the post, recovered the rebound and shot it past Turco. Burmistrov then jumped into the glass in a celebration that would make another fellow Russian named Alex that wears No. 8, proud.
“It was fun,” he said. “It was exciting.”
Chicago quickly recovered from the Atlanta momentum swing when Stalberg sent Toews away on a breakaway that he put between Pavalec’s legs even the score.
With Atlanta again on the power play, Peverley scored the prettiest goal of the night on great puck movement from the Thrashers’ No. 1 power play unit. Peverley sent the puck ahead to Ladd who passes across ice to Antropov. He then faked a shot and passed back across to Peverley who had a nearly empty net to shoot at.
The Hawks tied it late in the second when Toews stole the puck from Peverley behind the net and kicked it to Kane who scored his second goal of the night.
The Thrashers are off on Sunday and plays again on Tuesday when they travel to Ottawa to face the Senators.