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ATLANTA - -The Washington Capitals needed a lift on offense with Alexander Semin sidelined, and they got it from the most unlikely of sources Thursday night.

Low-scoring defenseman Jeff Schultz notched three points at Philips Arena, including a goal from 150 feet out, and three others scored their first goals of the season to lead the Capitals to a sloppy 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Washington chased previously hot goaltender Ondrej Pavelec from the net with three goals on four shots, all in the span of 1:28. But, as it turned out, the outburst almost wasn't enough.

The Thrashers, who had gotten off to a surprising 4-1-1 start, struck twice in the third period, once short-handed and the other by Ilya Kovalchuk on a 6-on-4 power play with 39 seconds left to make the penalty-prone Capitals sweat out the waning moments of their third straight win.

"It wasn't a textbook game, I'll tell you," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought both teams were really sloppy. Both teams got some pretty soft goals, and it wasn't a very well played hockey game. I never felt comfortable once that whole game."

Schultz, whose three points were a career high, wasn't Washington's only surprise scorer. Eric Fehr, minor league call-up Alexandre Giroux and captain Chris Clark each notched their first goals of the season. Meantime, goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 22 stops but yielded two soft goals.

Varlamov, who is 4-0-0 this season and still has yet to suffer a regulation loss, was credited with his first career assist on what has to be the flukiest goal of the season. Schultz sent a pass from deep inside the Washington zone up the middle of the ice that ricocheted off a skate, then skipped oddly off the ice before eluding Pavelec, who entered the game with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

"I was just trying to move the puck up the ice and go for a change," Schultz said. "I think it hit Mike Knuble's stick and that's how it knuckleballed up there. But, hey, I'll take it. I'm not going to give that one away."

After Schultz's long-shot goal, Matt Bradley scored his third goal of the season on a rebound off a shot by Schultz. Then, just 14 seconds after that, Clark chipped a fortuitous bounce off the end boards past Pavelec to put the Capitals ahead 5-2.

But a disorganized power play and the Capitals' inability to stay out of the penalty box in the clutch - they were whistled for four minor infractions in the final 10:23 - allowed the Thrashers to make a game of it.

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