ATLANTA — Ilya Kovalchuk scored his NHL-leading 36th goal but missed in the shootout, and the Florida Panthers defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 Thursday night.
After Kovalchuk fired wide of the net on the final round of the shootout, Olli Jokinen beat goalie Kari Lehtonen on the stick side to seal it for the Panthers, 2-1.
Florida’s Nathan Horton also scored in the shootout, while Slava Kozlov was the only Atlanta player to get one past Tomas Vokoun.
Atlanta’s Bobby Holik had the lone goal through the first two periods, but things really picked up in the third. The teams went back and forth, scoring three goals in a span of just over six minutes.
Kovalchuk put the Thrashers ahead 2-1 with 10:51 left in regulation, a likely precursor to being named to the NHL All-Star game in his home city.
Kovalchuk wasn’t voted to the All-Star game by the fans, but he will surely be named when the rest of the Eastern Conference team is announced Friday. The game will be held in Atlanta on Jan. 27.
The Panthers rallied, tying it at 2 on Kamil Kreps’ goal with 7:06 left in third. Florida has now won two straight in Atlanta after a winless streak of 11 games.
Kovalchuk stretched his lead in the goal-scoring race with a brilliant move from behind the net.
Mark Recchi set it up, first circling behind the net, then flipping it across the crease to Kovalchuk on the other side.
He didn’t have an angle to shoot, so he traced Recchi’s path and tucked the puck just inside the post before Vokoun could get back across.
Florida wasn’t done.
Brett McLean whiffed trying to get off a shot, but Rostislav Olesz knocked the puck to Kreps for an even better look. Lehtonen was on his knees, trying to see through a maze of players, when Kreps got off a shot that went right between the goalie’s legs for his fourth goal of the season.
The Panthers controlled play through much of the first 30 minutes, but the Thrashers found the net first on a goal by Holik late in the second.
When Kozlov sped into the Florida zone along the boards, defenseman Steve Montador came over to take a run at him. Just before Montador arrived, Kozlov flipped the puck past the other defenseman, Bryan Allen, and right onto the stick of Holik, who tipped it past Vokoun.
While Holik celebrated his seventh goal, Kozlov took offense at Montador’s rough check.
They tussled briefly before the linesmen stepped in to break it up without anyone throwing a serious punch.