ATLANTA -- When your penalty kill has a 74.1 percent efficiency rate, the 28th-worst number in the NHL, it's pretty much a given that you don't want to give opponents like the Atlanta Thrashers continual power plays.
But that's exactly what the Bruins did last night before 14,084 at Philips Arena, handing Atlanta 11 power plays. The Thrashers and trigger-happy point man Ilya Kovalchuk -- teeing up as if he were playing 18 holes at The Country Club -- blasted three man-advantage one-timers past Tim Thomas (34 saves) to lead his club to a 5-3 win.
Kovalchuk and forward Slava Kozlov had 4 points apiece.
"When he gets down there and winds up for a one-timer like he did tonight," said Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg, who won his third straight start, "there's not too many goalies in the world that are going to stop him."
With the victory, the Thrashers tied the Buffalo Sabres for most points in the Eastern Conference.
"No flow," said Marc Savard, who assisted on Patrice Bergeron's first-period goal for the Bruins. "Guys were sitting in the middle of the bench.
"There were some really weak calls tonight. It's frustrating. One night they call something. Another night they call something else. Who knows what's a penalty anymore?"
Perhaps several of the calls were of the questionable variety. But it wasn't an excuse that Bruins coach Dave Lewis was buying, as he watched his players take penalties with dogged determination, their minds set up to play a man down for virtually the entire game.
"We were guilty of reaching," said Lewis, whose club was whistled for six hooking penalties, including two straight by Paul Mara that led to first-period Atlanta goals. "We were guilty of being passive rather than aggressive.
"If you're going to be passive, you're going to get penalties. You're going to get burned. I want our guys to be aggressive. I want them to be on top of the opponent. I want them to not give them space. I want them to be physical. I don't want them reaching."
They did so because too often the slow-footed Boston club found itself a step behind the Thrashers and their two scoring lines, which toyed with the Bruins in their own zone. In the first period, the Thrashers had a 21-8 shot advantage, with most of the play taking place in the backtracking Bruins' zone.
If not for the strong netminding of Thomas, the game would never have been close after 40 minutes.
"If you keep the puck in their zone, they're a lot less intimidating," said Brad Boyes. "If you play in your end of the zone, of course those guys -- Kovalchuk, [Marian] Hossa, those guys coming -- they're going to fire it."
Instead, the Bruins found themselves trailing by only 2-1 -- an apparent second-period Atlanta goal was waved off after replays showed Hossa swatting the puck past Thomas with his glove -- heading into the third period.
That's when Atlanta stepped on the gas, pumping three straight goals past Thomas, including two that ticked off defensemen. At 6:20, with Jeff Hoggan serving a tripping penalty, Kovalchuk took a pass from Kozlov and cranked a one-timer that caught a piece of a Bruin and zoomed past Thomas.
Less than a minute later, Hossa scored his 13th goal when he accelerated past Andrew Alberts and tucked a shot home.
Then at 9:53, with P.J. Axelsson serving a double minor (hooking, unsportsmanlike conduct), the Thrashers scored their fourth power-play goal. Again, Kozlov set up Kovalchuk for a one-timer, and once more, the sniper's blast skimmed off one of Thomas's teammates and into the net, making it 5-1.
"I think on a clean shot, I've got it," said Thomas, who set himself up to stop all of Kovalchuk's shots with his torso. "I've got a pretty good chance. I'll stop them all if they're from out there. With no screen or no tip, I've got it 90-95 percent of the time. But trying to block those shots, you just get bad luck when they're both hit by our guys."
On the other end, the Bruins had one power play at the end of the second period and another at the start of the third when it was still a 2-1 game. Unlike the Thrashers' deadly man-advantage, Boston's power play had no juice during the crucial time of the game when the Bruins needed to capitalize on Atlanta penalties.
By the time the game was a laugher, Brad Boyes (shorthanded) and Bergeron (power play) beat Hedberg late in the third period.
"Too little, too late," said Boyes.