ATLANTA — Although they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs, the Florida Panthers can still be spoilers — and Olli Jokinen is looking forward to the challenge.
Jokinen, the Panthers’ leading scorer, got his 34th goal in the opening period before Jay Bouwmeester and David Booth scored 17 seconds apart early in the third period Tuesday night and the Panthers held on for a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers, ending a three-game losing streak.
"Right now we can spoil the other teams’ party. We want to win, whether we’re not in the playoffs or in the playoffs," said Jokinen.
The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both have 90 points and are tied for the Southeast Division lead with two games remaining.
Florida also has two games left, at Carolina on Friday night and at Washington on Saturday night.
"It’s a challenge for us," said Jokinen, whose Florida team is 37-34-9 with 83 points, but out of contention.
Bouwmeester scored his 14th goal when Atlanta’s Eric Perrin’s attempt at a clearing pass went straight to the Panthers’ defenseman, who blasted a 20-footer over the left shoulder of Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg for a 2-1 lead 1:02 into the final period.
Booth drilled his 22nd goal at the 1:19 mark, taking a perfect pass in close from Magnus Johansson, easily beating Hedberg for a 3-1 lead and sending the Thrashers to their 17th defeat in 21 games.
The Thrashers made it 3-2 with 3:12 left when Mark Recchi scored his 14th goal.
Atlanta rookie winger Jordan LaVallee scored his first NHL goal in his second game, tying it at 1 at 13:09 of the second period, beating Florida’s Craig Anderson on a back-hander from in close. He also drew an assist on Recchi’s goal.
"I was very excited and thinking about my parents back home (Corvallis, Ore.) watching the game and how happy nd proud they were," LaVallee said of his first goal. "It’s a much easier game here. ... Guys know where they are supposed to be and are always in the right spot so that makes it easier to join right in."
The Panthers had taken a 1-0 lead in the opening period on Jokinen’s power-play goal, a slap shot from just inside the blue line at center ice past Hedberg for his 34th goal.
"I thought our special teams were very good tonight," Florida coach Jacques Martin said. "We got the power-play goal and won that part of the game."
The Panthers were 1-for-5 on the power play and stopped all four Atlanta power plays.
Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, who had two goals in Monday night’s 2-0 win over Tampa Bay to give him 52 on the season to match the franchise record he set in 2005-06, was scoreless. He has one more game to break the mark in the Thrashers’ finale of the season on Saturday night against Tampa Bay.