Lehtonen unbeatable as Thrashers blank Devils

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By Daren Smith

PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEWARK, New Jersey (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Thrashers let coach

John Anderson know they are still breathing.

Colby Armstrong and a resurgent Ilya Kovalchuk scored 2:28 apart

during a three-goal second period and Kari Lehtonen made 29

saves for his first shutout in nearly a year as the Thrashers

blanked the New Jersey Devils, 4-0, on Thursday.

Jim Slater netted the other second-period goal, Marty Reasoner

tallied in the third and Todd White collected a pair of assists

for Atlanta, which won for only the second time in eight games

(2-5-1) and for the first time in regulation since beating the

New York Islanders on December 23.

"I now know there's a pulse in our room and that we do care,"

Anderson said. "To come in here against a team like New Jersey,

which plays so consistently good and is big and strong, to win

on the road like that when we really needed it says a lot about

our room."

Lehtonen turned aside six shots in the first period, 13 in the

second and 10 in the third en route to his first shutout of the

season and 12th career. The 25-year-old Finn had not held an

opponent scoreless since blanking Tampa Bay on March 31.

Scott Clemmensen lasted only two periods, allowing three goals

on 19 shots in his 13th straight start for the Devils, who have

lost two in a row and been shut out three times in their last

five home games.

While Anderson called it the Thrashers' most complete effort of

the season, Devils counterpart Brent Sutter believed it was his

team's low point.

"I feel bad for anyone who had to come and watch that," Sutter

said. "We didn't play tonight at all, that's a no-brainer.

"It's about everybody. I'm not leaving anybody off the hook -

goaltenders, defensemen, forwards. They just have to get back

to where they need to be."

Lehtonen was on his game early, denying Brian Rolston on a

breakaway six minutes in and getting a piece of Patrik Elias'

chance during a 3-on-1 with just under seven minutes remaining

in the first period.

"When you start thinking about (a shutout), the other team

scores," Lehtonen said. "The first half of the game, I felt

good. I just tried to keep it going and got lucky a couple of

times in the third."

Lehtonen helped Atlanta successfully kill a pair of third-period

power plays, including a four-minute advantage after enforcer

Eric Boulton received a double-minor for roughing.

"It doesn't make me very happy to see our guys going to the box,

but we were able to kill them, and that was great," Lehtonen

said. "It was a lot easier that the game was 4-0 at that time.

If it would've been tighter, I might have snapped a little bit

(at) a couple of guys."

The Thrashers also killed a couple of power plays in the opening

22 minutes, limiting the Devils to one shot. Just 46 seconds

after the second man advantage expired, Armstrong broke the

scoreless deadlock.

After grabbing a loose puck behind the net, Armstrong moved just

above the end line on the right side and unleashed a backhander.

The puck trickled past Clemmensen, who inadvertently knocked it

across the goal line while sprawling backward in the crease at

3:03.

Atlanta, which had scored just one goal in three of its previous

four games, needed less than a minute to convert its first power

play as Kovalchuk received a cross-ice pass from Vyacheslav

Kozlov and blasted a one-timer from the top of the left faceoff

circle past Clemmensen at 5:31. It was his 15th goal of the

season and fourth in five games.

"Kozzie made a great play and I was right in the middle of the

zone," said Kovalchuk, who earlier in the day was named as a

reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

It also was Kovalchuk's 98th career goal with the man advantage.

Slater capped the second-period outburst with exactly six

minutes to go, receiving a pass from Chris Thorburn alone in the

slot and pulled the puck from his backhand to his forehand

before sliding it past Clemmensen for his fourth tally. It came

moments after Lehtonen got his glove on David Clarkson's wrist

shot during a 2-on-1 rush.

Reasoner ended his 10-game goalless drought at 2:09 of the

third, beating Kevin Weekes from just above the right circle on

the first shot the backup goalie faced.

"We have to be more consistent. We have to play the kind of

hockey we played tonight more often," Kovalchuk said. "That's

the only way we can turn the season around and get closer to the

playoffs."

New Jersey has a firm grasp on a playoff spot but embarks on a

season-high five-game road trip Saturday at Los Angeles.

"This may be the best thing for us," Sutter said. "We need to

get away and start that process that needs to be done. I trust

this group. We've had a bump in the road that we'll deal with."

The loss was New Jersey's first to Atlanta in regulation in

their last nine meetings (6-1-2). The Devils outscored the

Thrashers, 7-1, in two victories earlier this season.

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