Hedberg, Afinogenov lift Thrashers to needed victory

Unlike the previous two outings, he won this time.

On the strength of Hedberg’s goaltending and Maxim Afinogenov’s third-period power-play goal, the Thrashers defeated Anaheim 2-1 on Tuesday at Philips Arena.

Atlanta (23-21-8, 54 points) jumped back into the playoff race with the much-needed victory. The Thrashers are in a three-way tie with the Bruins and Islanders, for the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference. They are one point behind the Flyers, Canadiens and Rangers, who are tied with 55 points for the sixth through eighth positions.

“Tonight was a breath of fresh air,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “We played a tight low-scoring game, and we won.”

Hedberg stopped all but one of the 35 shots he faced -- this after allowing one goal each in losses to the Panthers and Lightning last week.

“It was a big win for us,” Hedberg said. “We’ve been deserving to win more the last few weeks. It was nice to get the extra goal to get the win, and hopefully it will get us on a roll here.”

It wasn’t only Hedberg’s luck that changed. The Thrashers scored the winning goal on a power play, something they have struggled with mightily. They had scored only six goals in 74 chances with the man-advantage -- including zero for their past 13 attempts -- before Afinogenov scored.

With the Ducks’ Nick Boynton serving a high-sticking penalty, Afinogenov found the net with 34 seconds remaining in the infraction. Tobias Enstrom took a shot from the point that was stopped by goaltender Jonas Hiller. Rich Peverley took the rebound and passed to Afinogenov, who beat Hiller at the 4:03 mark of the third period.

It was Afinogenov’s 17th goal of the season and first in eight games.

“It was pretty much in front and it was bouncing, and I just tried to put it in the net and it worked,” Afinogenov said. “Before the game we spoke about winning the power play and keeping it going and it was going to win us a game. It helped tonight; we won the game.”

The teams entered the final period tied 1-1 after trading second-period goals.

Colby Armstrong opened the scoring with his ninth goal of the season 4:32 into the period. Ron Hainsey blasted a shot from the point that bounced off Hiller. Evander Kane dug out the rebound and slid the puck back to Armstrong, who flipped it into the net for his second goal in three games.

“We had some sustained pressure in their zone,” Armstrong said. “We had lots of traffic [in front of the net], and I don’t think the goalie really knew where it was. It was just a good shift by the five of us out there to make it happen.”

The Ducks answered with 2:02 remaining in the period on Steve Eminger’s goal. Corey Perry drove toward the net but lost control of the puck. Eminger skated in and poke-checked the loose puck past Hedberg for his second goal of the season.

The Ducks outshot the Thrashers 35-34 thanks to a 15-6 advantage in the third period. Hedberg made several big saves, but it was his play with the puck that might have been the difference. Several times he took control of the puck and either cleared the zone or made a pass to start a rush.

“He loves to play the puck,” Anderson said. “I think he wishes he was a forward. He likes to play the puck and [considers it] a challenge for him, so it’s not unusual to see him out of the net and scrambling around.”

For Hedberg it was a matter of comfort because of the play of the teammates in front of him.

“If you get in a situation where you feel comfortable to play aggressive at times then you can read it,” he said. “It was a really good solid effort from a lot of guys, and that helps my game out.”

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