The Thrashers made the most of their mulligan.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Rich Peverley each scored twice for Atlanta en route to a 6-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday in the season opener at Philips Arena. The victory came after the Thrashers closed the exhibition season with a 5-1 loss to the same Lightning.
Thrashers coach John Anderson called that loss a “mulligan.” Yes, indeed, this one counted.
"They kind of embarrassed us here," Peverley said. "It doesn't matter, any time you play in your own rink, preseason or regular season, you don't want to be embarrassed like that. It was in the back of my mind. I'm sure it was in the back of all the guys' minds."
In some respects, the first period demonstrated the trademark the Thrashers hope to stamp on this season as they jumped to a 2-0 lead. They got a goal from their star Kovalchuk and another from a defenseman, Anssi Salmela.
Kovalchuk opened the scoring at the 8:20 mark of the first period, taking a long pass from Bryan Little in on a breakaway in front of Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith. Kovalchuk fired a shot on net that Smith stopped, but the rebound came out in front, only to have his own defenseman, Paul Ranger, knock it past him.
“It takes a little bit of luck some times,” Kovalchuk said. “I’ll take it.”
The Thrashers went up 2-0 on Salmela’s goal at the 11:23 mark. Salmela skated forward into the offensive zone and converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Eric Boulton.
Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec stopped 36 of 39 shots. He was helped by Tobias Enstrom and Nik Antropov, who both blocked first-period shots with Pavelec out of position after a save.
The second period proved every bit of the "would-be" trademark as well. The Thrashers scored twice more to open a 4-0 lead. Zach Bogosian scored on a breakaway and Peverley scored on the rebound of an Evander Kane shot. The assist was first NHL point for Kane, the team’s first-round draft pick.
Credit Chris Thorburn with the first fight of the season. Seconds after Peverley’s goal, Thorburn and Tampa Bay’s Zenon Konopka dropped the gloves and had a lengthy bout. Thorburn was greeted by Ron Hainsey and Salmela when he got to the penalty box. Boulton got into a third-period fight with Tampa's Todd Fedoruk, landing several big blows in a bout that was much shorter.
"It was longer than I imagined," Thorburn said. "Konopka is a warrior. I was just trying to do what I have to do to protect my teammates. He definitely got me with a couple, and I got him with a couple."
The Lightning made it interesting, pulling to within 4-3 in the third period. They got two second-period goals from Martin St. Louis, the second on a power play after Kovalchuk took a hooking penalty. Andrej Meszaros scored early in the third period.
"I was a little nervous," Anderson acknowledged of Tampa Bay's rally. "... We still have things to work on."
The Thrashers killed off a third-period power play after Salmela took a roughing penalty after Boulton's fight. The Lightning's shots-on-goal advantage at one point in the third period was 32-18, including a 7-0 in that final period.
The Thrashers iced the game with Peverley's second goal of the game, putting Atlanta up 5-3. He knocked home the rebound of a Kovalchuk shot at 11:52 of the third. Kovalchuk added the final margin minutes later.