Atlanta won a faceoff early in overtime, but Vasicek stole the puck and set up Hunter’s winning goal as the Islanders recovered after blowing a three-goal lead to beat the slumping Thrashers 5-4 on Thursday night.
Atlanta’s Ken Klee lost the puck to Vasicek behind the Thrashers’ net, and Vasicek quickly spotted Hunter, who called for the pass.
“I saw him by himself,” Vasicek said of Hunter. “We try to talk to each other. He lets me know when he’s open. He made a great play.”
Hunter scored from the slot at 3:51 to give the Thrashers their fifth straight loss.
“I had an idea where he wanted to go,” Hunter said of Vasicek’s pass. “You try to pick your spots. Joe made a great play to pick off the puck and hit me in the slot.”
Said Klee: “We won the draw. (Vasicek) reached with one hand and knocked it out of the air. He made a great play.”
Atlanta’s Bobby Holik scored with 1:22 left in regulation to force the overtime.
Mike Comrie’s second goal of the game gave New York a 4-3 lead early in the third period. Vasicek and Andy Hilbert also scored for the Islanders, who led 3-0 early in the second before giving up three unanswered goals in the period.
“I don’t think they earned the three goals in the second period,” said Islanders coach Ted Nolan. “I give our team credit. We buckled down in the third period and got it done. The way we surrendered the three-goal led was disheartening. Fortunately, we found a way to get the two points.”
The Islanders, 10th in the Eastern Conference, have won seven of nine games.
The Thrashers, fourth in the Southeast Division, gained a point on first-place Carolina, which lost to the New York Rangers 4-2 on Thursday. The Thrashers, still eight points behind Carolina, know they can’t settle for overtime losses.
“We have to get points and wins,” said newly acquired forward Colby Armstrong, who had an assist in his first game with the Thrashers.
The Islanders were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead midway through the first period while holding a 9-1 advantage in shots on goal.
Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen partially blocked Comrie’s first goal 9:15 into the game, but Lehtonen couldn’t maintain control of the puck. An officials’ review showed the puck fell back to the ice and crossed the line under Lehtonen’s right knee.
Vasicek then scored 11:26 into the opening period. Lehtonen was caught leaning to his right, leaving half the net exposed as Vasicek crossed in front of the net for the shot.
The Islanders pushed the lead to 3-0 only 1:02 into the second period when Bryan Berard set up Hilbert’s goal.
Atlanta fans began booing, but the Thrashers recovered with three straight goals.
The momentum turned on Atlanta’s first penalty shot of the season. Perrin’s scoring opportunity was spoiled when he was sent sprawling as he was pulled from behind by Berard, who was called for holding. Perrin was awarded the penalty shot, and he beat Rick DiPietro 3:53 into the period with a sweeping move that had DiPietro leaning the wrong way.
Klee, set up by Armstrong, scored Atlanta’s second goal at the 13:46 mark, and Zhitnik’s third goal of the season tied the game 3-all with 5:00 left in the second.
The Islanders regained the lead 3:17 into the third. Berard earned his second assist of the game on a pass to Comrie, who shot past Lehtonen into the right side of the net.
Holik’s goal forced the overtime.
“It took a lucky bounce,” said DiPietro, who made 19 stops. ^Notes: The penalty shot was the first of Perrin’s career. … Armstrong and Erik Christensen made their Atlanta debut after being acquired from Pittsburgh as part of a package that sent Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to the Penguins. The two played together on a line with Perrin. … New York was 0-for-5 and Atlanta was 0-for-3 on the power play.