ATLANTA — Ondrej Pavelec could only bail out his team so many times.
Just 42 seconds into the third period, and with Pavelec defending the far post, Tomas Fleischmann sent a clever behind-the-net feed to Milan Hejduk on the short side, who lofted the game winner over a helpless Pavelec.
“You have to defend the short side,” Atlanta head coach Craig Ramsay said. “The goalie is trying to react and he has to defend that far side. That’s a key error and it’s really difficult for a goaltender to react to that. It’s very simple and it just was not well done.”
The Avalanche added a shorthanded, empty-net goal late to defeat the Thrashers 4-2 in Philips Arena Friday and snap Atlanta’s six-game home winning streak. It’s only the second loss in the last 10 games for Atlanta.
The Thrashers (15-11-3, 33 points) started poorly and were outshot 16-5 in the opening frame. Pavelec saved them all, including several sparkling saves. First he made a great stop on Ryan O’Reilly off a rebound, then robbed Brandon Yip with the glove, then stopped a John-Michael Liles bid after going from post to post.
“We weren’t ready for the game,” Pavelec said.
“The start was awful,” defenseman Johnny Oduya added. “We just didn’t have enough effort.”
Yet despite the poor start, Atlanta held the lead after the first on Niclas Bergfors’ seventh goal of the year. Dustin Byfuglien jumped into the play and retrieved the puck from the corner and passed to Andrew Ladd in the slot. Ladd fought off Colorado defenseman Matt Hunwick and dished to Bergfors, who made no mistake putting the puck in the back of the net.
Atlanta’s lack of effort caught up to it in the second when Colorado evened the score on a powerplay goal from Fleischmann. Pavelec stopped three close range shots – two from Matt Duchene and one from Fleischmann – before finally allowing the goal.
Seven minutes later, the Avs took the lead when Greg Mauldin scooped up a Byfuglien miscue and scored on a shorthanded breakaway to give Colorado a 2-1 edge.
“We just weren’t sharp,” Ramsay said. “We weren’t recognizing danger and we just didn’t play well the first two periods. We looked like we were looking for an easy night.”
Midway through the second, lead by Evander Kane and Eric Boulton, Atlanta picked up the physical play and began to carry the play.
“We are a big physical team and we have to be physical and punish opposing teams,” Kane said, “and I took it upon myself to do that.”
Kane became a catalyst on Atlanta’s second goal when he grabbed a turnover in the neutral zone and raced down the left side. He passed across to Bryan Little, who blasted a slapper past Avs goalie Craig Anderson.
Ben Eager nearly tied the game with less than two minutes left, but Anderson thwarted the attempt with his pad.
The Thrashers next play the lowly New York Islanders Saturday on Long Island, a team that took Atlanta to overtime in their last meeting.
“We have to study the video and have a much better start,” Oduya said. “That’s the most important thing.”