WASHINGTON - The Atlanta Thrashers, playing with heartache, were tenacious last night.
They came from behind to win, 4-3, against the Washington Capitals, who struggled with their own game and emotions.
"They played with a lot of heart and emotion," said Caps goalie Olie Kolzig, who earned an assist but let in four goals on 19 shots. "I don't know if we forgot that part of the game."
The Thrashers attended the funeral of their teammate Dan Snyder on Friday and then came to Washington. They played last night knowing another teammate, Dany Heatley, is facing vehicular homicide charges as the driver in the Sept. 29 accident in which Snyder suffered the brain injuries he died from six days later.
Atlanta presented a united front. The team showed singular concentration as Ronald Petrovicky (two goals) and Randy Robitaille (a goal and an assist) sparked the offense that tested and broke the Cap' inexperienced defense.
"The win is good for our confidence," said Atlanta coach Bob Hartley, whose team is 2-0. "We need to keep improving and building. ... But right now we're playing with pride."
The Capitals (1-1) are young and inexperienced in places, too. Last night, it showed when they lost veteran defenseman Brendan Witt midway through the first period.
Witt had been closing on Petrovicky behind the Caps' net. When Petrovicky scraped the puck from under the feet of another player and made a quick exit to his right, Witt was unable to stop his own momentum. Bent at the waist, he head-butted the MCI Center boards where the boards, glass and seams meet. He bounced back from the wall and collapsed on the ice.
"He has a facial injury and the fact he wasn't able to return says its more serious than just a bump on the head," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He's a tough guy, but we'll know more tomorrow."
The Caps were leading 1-0 at the time on a goal by rookie Boyd Gordon, but when Witt went out, the Caps seemed to lose their concentration.
"The whole game turned around there," Cassidy said. "Whether it was Witt's injury or that our other 'D' had to play too much, I don't know. But ... our group of forwards did not help them out."
The Thrashers didn't wait long after Witt was helped from the ice at 11:09 of the opening period to test journeyman John Gruden, who took Witt's place, and rookie Steve Eminger.
Two and a half minutes later, Petrovicky scored to tie the game when he beat Gruden and rushed Kolzig.
In the second period, Marc Savard picked off a pass from Peter Bondra that led directly to a breakaway by Kovalchuk for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
"That turnover cost us the game," Cassidy said. "It was a poor decision by our forwards. I hope we learned a lesson tonight. I hope we understand we can't play this kind of game with an inexperienced defense and expect to win."
Atlanta 2 2 0 - 4
Washington 1 1 1 - 3
First period - 1, Washington, Gordon 1 (Jagr, Witt), 3:11. 2, Atlanta, Petrovicky 1 (Exelby, Robitaille), 11:25. 3, Atlanta, Robitaille 1 (Cowan), 14:33. Penalties - Kozlov, Atl (holding), 5:32; Kaberle, Atl (hooking), 19:12. Second period - 4, Washington, Gonchar 1 (Lang, Kolzig), :47 (pp). 5, Atlanta, Petrovicky 2 (Majeski, Robitaille), 1:56; 6, Atlanta, Kovalchuk 2 (Savard), 5:21. Penalties - Willsie, Was (ob.-interference), 6:48; Gruden, Was (tripping), 11:24; Doig, Was (cross-checking), 14:18; Santala, Atl (slashing), 19:37. Third period - 7, Washington, Jagr 2 (Miller, Gordon), 17:11. Penalties - Tamer, Atl (cross-checking), 2:54; McEachern, Atl (high-sticking), 9:23; Sutton, Atl (slashing), 15:10. Shots on goal - Atlanta 8-10-1-19. Washington 10-5-15-30. Power-play opportunities - Atlanta 0 of 3; Washington 1 of 6. Goalies - Atlanta, Nurminen 2-0-0 (30 shots-27 saves). Washington, Kolzig 1-1-0 (19-15). A - 15,060 (18,277). T-2:14.