ATLANTA — Like a well-oiled machine, the Atlanta Thrashers just keep rolling right along.
The Thrashers extended their winning streak to three games after a thoroughly dominating 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Philips Arena Wednesday night.
They have now outscored the Capitals, Islanders and Red Wings 12-2 over the last games, and are riding a wave of confidence heading into Thanksgiving.
“I am enjoying the heck out of this particular moment and so are our players,” said Atlanta head coach Craig Ramsay. “This game is supposed to be fun and we talked about not being afraid of this team, and not being afraid of anyone. Now we can enjoy the win and we can enjoy [Thursday].
“The players can pat themselves on the back, and they deserve it.”
Atlanta took a 2-1 lead in the first on goals from Chris Thorburn and Andrew Ladd and never looked back. Anthony Stewart and Bryan Little each scored in the second to extend the lead to 4-1 as they chased Detroit starting goalie Jimmy Howard to the bench. Dustin Byfuglien ended the scoring with a power play blast from the point.
All game, Atlanta (10-9-3, 23 points) suffocated the potent Red Wings’ offense by playing up-tempo, aggressive hockey, as they held the Wings without a shot for the first nine minutes. And when the Wings did get pressure, goalie Ondrej Pavalec was equal to the task.
Pavelec made 32 saves and has entrenched himself in number one goalie spot with his third splendid performance in a row. He has only allowed two goals in the last three games and moved into the top two in the league in both goals against and save percentage, trailing only Boston’s Tim Thomas.
For all the scoring, the Thrashers are hanging their hat on their defensive play. Allowing only one combined goal to the Capitals and Wings can have that effect.
“We’ve proved we can score this year,” Ladd said. “Our focus is on being sound defensively and this was one of our best team games of the year.”
Added Ramsay: “[I] couldn’t be prouder of this group. They had a little bit of a fear factor, but they competed, they won battles, they skated, and we did it for the whole 60 minutes.”
Thorburn opened the scoring just 2:39 into the game when, after great work along the boards from Jim Slater, he deposited a behind-the-net feed from Eric Boutlon past the Detroit keeper.
Ladd scored the game-winner over nine minutes later when he put a shorthanded goal past Howard off of a setup from Rich Peverley. The Wings cut the lead in half 19 seconds later when Todd Betuzzi scored a powerplay goal after a clever cross-ice pass from Mike Modano.
And despite carrying the play the rest of the frame, Pavelec kept his team ahead going into the first intermission.
“It was big to keep the lead,” Pavelec said. “But there were still 40 minutes and we did a great job of team defense and it was a great team effort.”
Stewart added his fourth goal of the year on a tape-to-tape pass from Little in the second and Little himself lasered a shot past Howard on a 2-on-1 with Stewart to give his team a 4-1 edge.
“Stew did a great job going to the net,” Little said. “I really didn’t look at the net. I just shot it as hard as I could. When I get the puck I feel a lot more confident and our line is playing so well and it’s so easy to play with them.”
Confidence is high in the locker room, especially after beating two perennial powerhouses in the last three games, but the team realizes that they can’t get too high on themselves.
“It’s great to get up for the teams that are top in the league and now we have to keep it up against the rest of the teams so we can make the playoffs,” Stewart said. “We have to have the same mindset every game and just keep playing our system and hopefully the wins will keep coming.”
Atlanta continues its homestand Friday when it takes on the Northeast Division leaders, Montreal at 7:30 p.m.