ATLANTA — For any team, the first 3:18 the Atlanta Thrashers endured in their season opening game over the Washington Capitals could have been debilitating.
At 2:35, starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec lost consciousness and collapsed to the ice and less than a minute after play resumed allowed a goal to Washington’s Brooks Laich. But Atlanta showed a maturity level vast beyond its average age to rally and defeat the defending President’s Cup champion Capitals 4-2 at Philips Arena Friday night.
“It takes courage and some leadership [to recover from that],” Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay said. “And we called them over and just talked about the fact that would he like us to told up the tent and go home and the obvious answer is ‘no.’ I thought the players responded extremely well and [backup Chris] Mason went in and was just wonderful. To me this showed the character of a good group of guys.”
The Thrashers had just shot the puck out of play in the Capitals end when players and officials discover Pavelec, 23, laying spread-eagled and unconscious into front of his net.
Emergency medical personnel rushed onto the ice and removed Pavelec from the ice on a stretcher and the game was delayed nearly 10 minutes. He lost consciousness on the ice, but in the second intermission Atlanta GM Rick Dudley confirmed that Pavelec had regained consciousness in a local area hospital.
Prior to collapsing, Pavelec was seen tapping his stick and motioning toward the bench before hitting the ice. The only television replay available showed Pavelec crouched in his crease and then prone on his back in the next shot.
“It was really tough,” said Mason (29 saves). I had a lot of trouble focusing and couldn’t stop thinking about him. When they told us he was responsive after the first period it eased our minds a little bit, but it was just awful.”
Added Atlanta defensman Zach Bogosian: “It’s scary and you don’t know what to think. In a situation like that a lot of thoughts go running through your head but its good to hear he’s awake. But its not a good feeling, I almost got sick to my stomach seeing him in that situation. It was definitely scary … and I just sat in a corner because I don’t take things like that very well.”
Despite allowing Washington to take a 1-0 lead on Laich’s goal 53 seconds after play resumed, Evander Kane stole the puck at the Capitals’ blueline and lasered a shot into the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.
Atlanta added two more goals in the second, in just the way Ramsay preaches. A great forechecking effort from the line of Andrew Ladd, Niclas Bergfors and Bryan Little ended up in Ladd tipping home his first goal at a Thrasher. Kane added his second goal on a penalty shot, awarded to Atlanta after Capitals defenseman Mike Green covered the puck with his hand in the crease.
Washington cut the lead to 3-2 at 8:15 of the third on a Mike Knuble goal, but Freddy Modin’s first goal as a Thrasher with 5 minutes to go iced Atlanta’s third straight season opening win.
“I thought we played really smart tonight,” Modin said. “We have a few details to improve on, but I felt we played really smart and held back their energy and emotions tonight and played a solid game.”
Atlanta now embarks on a four-game road trip beginning in Tampa, Fla., Saturday before heading west to Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. It’s next home game is Oct. 20 against Buffalo.
1. Chris Mason, Atlanta goalie. To have to come into a game after the starter collapsed has to be one of the worst situations imaginable, and Mason admitted he has trouble focusing. But to only allow 2 goals to the prolific Capital’s offense is admirable and impressive beyond description.
2. Evander Kane, Atlanta forward. Kane scored two goals, his first tying the game at 1-1 in the first and his second —which was the game winning goal — on a penalty shot in the second.
3. Andrew Ladd, Atlanta forward. Ladd scored his first goal as a Thrasher on a deflection to culminate an aggressive shift by his line in the second period.
— After Washington scored less than a minute after play resumed, I was sure the Thrashers were going to get steamrolled. But the maturity and commitment this team showed was impressive to witness. If that doesn’t show character, nothing does. And there is a lot of character in the Thrashers’ locker room right now.
— In his NHL debut, Alex Burmistrov looked nothing but comfortable. He used his body well, played some big minutes on the penalty kill and neutralized his Russian and numerical counterpart Alex Ovechkin when the two were both on the ice. It would be a shocker to see him returned to Barrie of the OHL this season.
— Yes its only one game, but after a winless preseason, and to win a game like this, the Thrashers could be a force to be reckoned with this season. They have experience, youth, speed, character and all the intangibles needed to have success.