PHILADELPHIA (AP)—A two-goal deficit against a team that hasn’t lost a third-period lead all season in a tough arena to earn a victory sure seemed insurmountable.
Not for the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Thrashers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to earn a rare victory in Philadelphia and hand the Flyers their first loss when leading after two periods. The Flyers were 22-0.
“This was a big win against a good team in an arena we haven’t been successful in the past,” Slater said. “Philly is a tough place to play. It shows a lot of character to score three in the third.”
Atlanta moved one point ahead of the Flyers, who entered the night in a four-way tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We needed to play a better third period. We needed to play with more energy,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our desperation level needs to be higher for 60 minutes. It was sporadic.”
The Thrashers have been dominated by Philadelphia during their 10-year history. The Flyers are 29-5-4 against Atlanta, including 14-2-3 at home.
Trailing 3-1, the Thrashers quickly went to work in the third. Kovalchuk scored his 31st goal just 29 seconds in to cut it to 3-2. He picked up a loose puck off a faceoff and shot one over goalie Ray Emery(notes), who was sprawled on the ice.
Then Kane skated down the left side, went around the net and placed a perfect pass on Slater’s stick. Slater slipped it in for a 4-3 lead with 6:32.
Kane and Slater hooked up on a similar play to put Atlanta up 1-0 late in the first.
“They were big goals,” Kane said. “I just tried to get to the net and get some space and I put it on his stick.”
Atlanta’s Johan Hedberg(notes) stopped 34 shots. He ranged far out of the crease and poked the puck away from a streaking Simon Gagne(notes) with 3:51 left. Hedberg lost his mask during the collision, and his sweater slipped over his head, drawing laughter from the crowd.
The Flyers scored three goals in a span of 6:25 in the second period to take a 3-1 lead. Giroux tied it at 1 with an unassisted goal following some fancy stickwork. Giroux skated around a defenseman, deked Hedberg and put a shot in from just behind the net.
“I was just looking for a pass. I saw the goalie was outside, so I sneaked it in,” Giroux said.
Giroux then made a perfect cross-ice pass to Asham, who lifted a shot past Hedberg to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead.
Kovalchuk might be playing out his final days with the Thrashers. He could become an unrestricted free agent after the season, so it is possible he will be dealt before the NHL trade deadline on March 3.
There have been rumors the Flyers might be interested in acquiring the three-time All-Star, but it is unlikely they could fit his $6.4 million salary under the cap.
NOTES: Gagne played his 634th game, moving into 11th place on the Flyers’ career list. … Asham has 10 points in his last 12 games. … The Thrashers beat Philadelphia 1-0 on Nov. 28.