- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

ATLANTA — Daniel Tjarnqvist was just trying to get the puck near the net. It wound up going in.

The Atlanta defenseman scored on a 55-foot shot with 7:24 remaining and the Thrashers kept alive their slim playoff hopes with a 3-2 victory over Washington Capitals last night at Philips Arena.

“We’ll have to check the radar on that one,” Thrashers coach Bob Hartley quipped. “I believe it was clocked around 38 mph.”

Tjarnqvist flipped a shot from just inside the blue line that got by Matthew Yeats, making his first NHL start. The rookie goaltender was screened by Ilya Kovalchuk, and the puck also appeared to slightly deflect off a Washington player in front.

“I’d rather see a 38 mph shot that’s on net than a 110 mph shot that’s on the glass,” Hartley said. “It was a shot on net and there was traffic in front. That’s the way you score goals.”

The winning goal came just three minutes after Brian Willsie tied it for the Caps, knocking a rebound past Kari Lehtonen. Atlanta’s rookie goalie won his second straight start since getting called up from the minors.

Yeats was pressed into service when Washington decided to keep two more qualified goalies — Maxime Ouellet and Rastislav Stana — with its Portland (Maine) AHL affiliate, which is contending for a playoff spot. The Caps, of course, gave up on the playoffs long ago.

Yeats’ services were needed as a fill in since the arthritic hip of regular backup Sebastien Charpentier is flaring up.

Yeats made his NHL debut the previous night, stopping all 14 shots in the third period of a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders. Olie Kolzig, the Caps’ No.1 goalie, got the night off in the second of back-to-back games.

“That was good, two young guys going at it,” said Yeats, who faced 33 shots. “He got the better of me.”

The Thrashers tied a franchise record with their 31st victory, but they’re still 10 points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta, which has never made the postseason in its five-year history, has only five games remaining.

“We don’t want to give up the push until the end,” forward Ronald Petrovicky said. “We’re going to keep trying to win every game and see what happens.”

Petrovicky had what amounted to a four-point night. He scored one goal and assisted on two others, but also knocked the puck in his own net for a Washington goal.

Lehtonen had a relatively easy night, facing 25 shots and few of the tough variety. Still, Hartley was impressed with the way he remained focused during lulls in the action.

“Sometimes, you would rather a young goalie face 30 or 40 shots to keep him in the game,” the coach said. “It was one of those games where he never knew when he would have a chance to make a save. But he stayed in the game. He was sharp for us.”

Yeats lived a charmed life in the early going. The Thrashers put three shots off the post in the first period alone, then Randy Robitaille made it 0-for-4 when he clanked a shot off the iron in the opening minute of the second.

“The post was my best friend,” Yeats said.

A short time later, the youngster finally ran out of luck. With the Caps bottled up by furious forechecking, Petrovicky skated out from behind the net and scored his 16th goal at 2:51, putting a shot through Yeats’ legs.

Notes — The Caps yesterday reassigned center Andrej Podkonicky to Portland. Podkonicky, 25, appeared in two games for Washington after being recalled March 18, recording no points or penalty minutes. In 48 games for the Pirates this season, he has totaled six goals and 10 assists while recording 22 minutes in penalties. … Char Rhinehart-Silberstein of Falls Church has been chosen as the Caps’ 7th Man. The league-wide competition determines each team’s most dedicated fan. Rhinehart-Silberstein will be honored at Washington’s home finale against the New York Rangers April 3.

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