ATLANTA - Little more than an hour before puck drop, Scott Lehman rushed through the back entrance underneath Philips Arena, toting his maroon Chicago Wolves' equipment bag.
He was just in time to make his NHL debut.
Lehman played sparingly in the Atlanta Thrashers' 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
The defeat took some of the shine off the day. But the 22-year-old defenseman who spent all of his rookie season with the Gwinnett Gladiators won't soon forget it.
"It was a dream come true just to even be here," Lehman said. "But it didn't really sink in that I was in an NHL game until the first shift. It was a great experience. I just wish (the final result) could have gone better."
Lehman played just six games for the Thrashers' ECHL affiliate in Gwinnett last season, spending the majority of 2007-08 with AHL Chicago. The native of Ontario has been with the Wolves all of this year.
He was called up due to a lower-body injury to Garnet Exelby and played his first NHL game against Stanley Cup finalist Pittsburgh.
"I don't even know if it's really sunk in," Lehman said, dressed in his suit again soon after the final horn sounded. "It was fun. Just to be out there with some of those guys is amazing."
The Wolves were in San Antonio this morning when Lehman got the call. He grabbed his gear and got to the airport, but had to wait for a bigger plane because of bad weather.
"That was at like 1:30 so I ended up landing here at like 5," Lehman said.
He was stepping onto the ice for warm-ups less than 90 minutes later.
Lehman, who was selected by Atlanta in the third round of the 2004 draft, hit the ice for his first shift 3:37 into the game. He snagged a loose puck near Atlanta's blue line and forced Pittsburgh offside.
Penguins forward Eric Godard gave him a quick face-wash and Lehman was right back off the ice.
"I thought I was going to get into a fight there on the first shift," Lehman said with a little chuckle.
It was a 11 second shift and Lehman only got about a minute more ice time in the first period as Pittsburgh gained a 2-0 lead.
Matt Cooke beat Ondrej Pavelec inside the near post with a wrister from 35 feet at 5:32 and Evgeni Malkin extended that lead at 9:40. Malkin made a lighting move to get the puck to his forehand at the post and tucked it home.
Marc-Andre Fleury, playing in his first game since Nov. 15, was tested early and often, but didn't get beat until the final minute of the first period.
Marty Reasoner was camped in the slot and Ilya Kovalchuk's shot from up high deflected off him. The goal came with 39 seconds to go and sparked a line brawl.
Brooks Orpik jumped Reasoner and both teams rushed to the crease.
The worst of it came when Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby was the third man in on one exchange. Crosby began punching Boris Valabik in the back and neck while Valabik was engaged with Kris Letang.
Crosby went to the box on roughing penalty that gave Atlanta the power play, most of which carried into the second period.
The Thrashers (10-17-4) failed to convert.
Pittsburgh did not.
It took 31 seconds for the Penguins to set up on their first power play and find Malkin inside the blue line. Malkin ripped his shot and it deflected off Jordan Staal for a 3-1 lead at 3:30.
Less than a minute later, Pittsburgh (17-10-4) was again on the power play and 90 seconds after that it was 4-1. Miroslav Satan was unguarded in the slot and scored his 12th goal of the season at 5:54.
"We can't let any mistakes creep into our game or else we pay for it," Atlanta head coach John Anderson said. "Once we start learning that ....
"We have to be spot-on for 60 minutes. We can't let stupid little mistakes cost us games because we get so far behind that we can't catch up."
The power play continued to be effective, this time for the Thrashers, who cut the gap to 4-2. Bryan Little capped a snappy passing play, banging home his 12th goal of the season from the high slot at 7:32.
Pittsburgh's answer came almost immediately.
Philippe Boucher's scoring shot as he skated over the blue line at 8:04 chased Pavelec from between the pipes. It was the second straight home game Pavelec was pulled. He played a good road game in a 4-1 win at Ottawa on Tuesday.
Johan Hedberg inherited the 5-2 deficit and held the fort.
Colby Armstrong scored an unassisted goal with 5:05 to go in regulation, but with Hedberg pulled for the extra attacker in the final minutes, Malkin got the empty-netter.
"We started to show some emotion in the third and started skating very well," Hedberg said. "There have been games this year when we have started and then stopped. What we need to do is keep the train rolling.
"We can't afford to stop against teams like this. They're too good. They are going to make you pay and they did tonight."
Lehman ended up getting 3 minutes and 3 seconds of ice time, far less than any one else in the game. But he's staying in Atlanta, at least for now. Lehman said it was a day-to-day situation at this point.
The Thrashers remain at home to play Tampa Bay on Saturday and Toronto on Monday.