Thrashers fall in shootout 5-4 to Blackhawks

CHICAGO – Mission almost accomplished.

The Thrashers dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Blackhawks Saturday night to finish a three-game road trip with a 1-0-2 record. Coach John Anderson set a goal to finish the trip in playoff position headed into the two-week Olympic break.

They’re close.

With the point, the Thrashers (26-24-10, 62 points) are 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points out of the eighth spot and three points out of seventh.

“If you look at it in the big scheme of things a very tough road trip with three games in four nights against teams that were waiting for us,” Anderson said. “To get four points out of that is like winning two of three.”

The Thrashers battled the team with the third-best record in the NHL, on their ice, and lost in a shootout. The trip started with a blown two-goal, third-period lead in Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Avalanche. A win against the Wild doubled the point output.

“[The points] are better than nothing, but we still had the lead in the third period and gave it up again,” Anderson said. “I think we ran out of gas a little bit. They are not a bad hockey team either. They came at us pretty hard in the third. We hung in there and earned a point.”

Jonathan Toews’s lone shootout goal was the difference for Chicago. Bryan Little, Nik Antropov and Niclas Bergfors missed their attempts.

The Thrashers had a third-period lead but David Bolland’s goal 4:21 in tied the score at 4-4 and forced overtime. The goal came with both sides down a man after roughing penalties to Atlanta’s Colby Armstrong and Chicago’s Kris Versteeg. Armstrong drilled former Thrasher Marian Hossa, knocking him from the game, to set up the matching penalties.

Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec stopped 35 shots, including 18 in the third period and overtime.

The Thrashers owned the second period scoring three unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead.

Tobias Enstrom gave the Thrashers the lead when he blasted a shot from the point past Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi just 17 seconds into a power play. Antropov picked up one of the assists, his second of the night and eighth point in the past four games. Pavel Kubina also assisted on the goal, his fourth helper in the past two games.

“I guess we have good chemistry,” Antropov said of the team’s top line with Bergfors and Little, who have now combined for 16 points since last week’s trade of Ilya Kovlahcuk. “We’ve played five games together, but it feels like we’ve been playing forever.”

Evander Kane pulled the Thrashers within one at 3-2 with his 14th goal of the season 4:09 into the period. It came on a beautiful spin move and back-handed pass from defenseman Johnny Oduya, who has an assist in three straight games.

Max Afinogenov tied the game by scoring on a breakaway at the 13:30 mark. Afinogenov took a pass from Kane at the blue line and raced in on Niemi, beating him for his 19th goal of the season. Arturs Kulda, playing his second NHL game, also earned an assist for his first career point.

The Thrashers need the big comeback after falling behind by two goals after the first period. The big difference was the Blackhawks scored on their power play. And they score on the Thrashers’ power play too.

The Thrashers actually opened the scoring with a Jim Slater goal 3:41 into the game. Slater took a pass from Armstrong behind the Blackhawks net and stuffed a wrap-around shot past Niemi for his eighth of the season.

The Blackhawks came roaring back. Patrick Sharp scored eight seconds into a holding penalty to Armstrong at the 7:31 mark of the first. He knocked a bouncing rebound past Pavelec for his 18th goal of the season.  Kim Johnsson, playing his first game since being traded from the Wild on Friday, snapped a wrist shot past Pavelec 1:13 later.

Then came the ultimate insult.

With 53 seconds gone in a Blackhawks penalty, Hossa took control of a loose puck, skating in on Pavelec and beat him to the high glove side. It was Hossa's 17th goal of the season and NHL-leading fifth short-handed.

“We did a great job getting the lead, but probably hung on a little too early,” Hainsey said. “Pavs made some great saves at the end. We really looked like we were at the end of a long week to be honest. It’s a good point. Anytime to get four out of six points on a road trip like this, it’s a really good trip. Not a great trip, five or six is great. But it was good.”

The Chicago crowd of 22,275, a season-high, made the United Center loud from the National Anthem to the final buzzer.

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