Thrashers rally for win after Pavelec collapses

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec lost consciousness and collapsed on the ice minutes into the Thrashers’ season opener Friday, casting a somber start on a new campaign.

Pavelec later regained consciousness and was in stable condition at an undisclosed local hospital as the Thrashers rallied for a 4-2 victory over Washington. Evander Kane scored twice, once on a penalty shot, in the comeback after the Capitals took an early lead 53 seconds after Pavelec went down.

With play taking place at the opposite end of the ice, Pavelec fell and lay sprawled on his back, arms out to his side, at the top of the goal crease just 2:25 into the game. There were no players around him at the time.

Medical personnel immediately rushed to Pavelec’s aid, and he eventually was removed from the ice on a stretcher in an eerily quiet Philips Arena. According to Thrashers officials, the 23-year-old Pavelec lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital for further evaluation. Preliminary tests were negative, and Pavelec was said to be alert and asking about the score of the game. He was kept overnight for observation. There was no word on the cause of the collapse.

Pavelec was motionless while being attended to and removed from the arena by ambulance. He was going in and out of consciousness while being loaded for transport.

TV replays showed Pavelec crouched in the goal crease at the far end of the ice with the Thrashers in the Capitals’ end. He went out of view of the camera, and when he returned to view he was down on the ice.

The game resumed after a lengthy delay for medical personnel to re-enter the arena.

Chris Mason replaced Pavelec in goal, and the Capitals scored seconds later. Brooks Laich scored after a give-and-go with Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin.

“It was awful," Mason said. "You imagine [Pavelec's] family across the sea. They are probably following the game, and something like that happens. It must be a helpless feeling. It was tough. To be honest, I had trouble focusing when I first got in there. I couldn’t stop thinking about him.”

The rest of the team found out at the first intermission that Pavelec was OK.

“We got through the first period, and that was the hardest part," Mason said. "It was hard trying to focus and play a game and have that killer instinct and game mentality when you can’t stop thinking about your teammate.”

The Thrashers answered with an unassisted goal by Kane at the 7:57 mark of the first period. Kane made an individual move around the Washington defense and wristed a shot past goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

The Thrashers added two more goals in the second period. Andrew Ladd tipped in a shot from the point by Johnny Oduya for his first goal as a Thrasher at the 15:43 mark. Kane got his second goal of the game when he converted a penalty shot with 1:06 remaining. Washington defenseman Mike Green was called for covering the puck in the goal crease, setting up Kane’s second goal of the night.

“A lot of people were concerned that we didn’t win a game in the preseason, but I think we had the confidence in the room to know we were a better team than that, and we were able to show it tonight.”

The Capitals pulled within a goal with 11:44 left when Mike Knuble scored on an assist from Alexander Ovechkin on a two-on-one break.

Fredrik Modin iced the game for the Thrashers,  scoring a goal with 5:00 remaining.

The Thrashers had lost eight consecutive games to the Capitals, including all six last season, their last win coming March 16, 2009.

“It’s something where you step up and play hard,” said Dustin Byfuglien, who spoke up in the dressing room to win the game for Pavelec. “He wouldn’t have quit working if it happened to someone else. We can’t do the same. We felt bad for him. As a team we had to come together and get the victory for him.”