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Kovalchuk's 5 Points Send Hurricanes Reeling

I have not written very many game stories this season. The Thrashers haven't been in contention for most of the year--so there have been few games packed with meaning. Last night's 5-3 come-from-behind win might not do much for Atlanta, but it certainly dealt a big blow to the playoff hopes of Carolina.

Heading into this contest Sports Club Stats gave the Hurricanes a 56.5% chance of making the playoffs if they beat the Thrashers, but just a 40.1% chance if they lost to Atlanta. That's a pretty huge swing. If you're the Hurricanes and you see the 29th ranked Atlanta Thrashers on your schedule you consider that a "must-win" game when plotting your path to the post-season.

Carolina seemed well on their way to winning this contest. The Thrashers handed them numerous power play opportunities and the Canes twice constructed two goal leads (2-0 and 3-1).  The Thrashers lack of discipline kept them from getting into a steady offensive rythem for much of the night. At the end of 1st Carolina had twice as many shots as Atlanta (12 to 6). The Thrashers didn't really get going until the 3rd period when they out shot Carolina 15-12 and out scored them 4-1 (3-1 if you take out the EN goal).

The headline is of course Kovalchuk's 5 point game. Yet this Atlanta win was not the product of just one player.In fact, when they announced the three stars I half jokingly said Peverley should be chosen #1. One of the most impressive things out of Kovlachuk all night was not an offensive play, but his attempt to block a shot from the point at the very end of the game when Carolina had the extra attacker and was looking to tie the game. That shot block attempt impressed me.

Rich Peverley in particular had two HUGE goals. His first of the night cut the Carolina lead to one goal and his second put the Thrashers ahead 4-3. Ilya Kovalchuk is a great talent but not everyone can play with him. For whatever reason Peverley plays with Kovalchuk both on the power play and at even strength.

The other hero of the night was Tobias Enstrom. The smallest player on the Thrashers roster led the entire team in minutes played. Enstrom finished played about 28 minutes which are totals typically only super star defenders can handle in the NHL. His usual partner Nic Havelid played about 23 minutes and Kovalchuk lead forwards with 22 minutes.

Finally, I must give a tip of the hat to Cam Ward for letting the Thrashers back into this one. I consider Ward the most over-rated goalie in the NHL today. He got red how and carried his club all the way to the Stanley Cup in 2007. But he has yet to put together an above-average season in SV% in his carrer. I play defense--not goal--but it sure looked to me like Ward wasn't very square on one of those Atlanta goals.

Cam Ward SV% Rank Total Goalies Ranked
2005-06 45th 51
2006-07 34th 44
2007-08 32nd 44
2008-09 25th 44

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Thrashers play in the months of January and Februrary has been the effort level. They simply are playing harder now than they did in the first half of the season. There have several stinkers in the mix, but for the most part Coach John Anderson has these guys competing despite a talent deficit and no hope of making the playoffs.