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Kovalchuk practices, hopes to play Wednesday

DULUTH, Ga. -- Ilya Kovalchuk was on a line Tuesday with
Peter Bondra and Marc Savard in his first practice since re-signing
with the Atlanta Thrashers.

He'd be thrilled to get the same chance Wednesday night against
the Montreal Canadiens.

Three days after agreeing to terms with the Thrashers on a
five-year, $32-million contract, Kovalchuk was back on the ice with
his Atlanta teammates. The 22-year-old Russian forward has not yet
obtained a work visa from the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, leaving his playing status in limbo.

"We're confident that it'll be reported back to us within the
next 24 hours," general manager Don Waddell said Tuesday. "Once
they OK it, they'll just send us an e-mail immediately, and then
the paperwork will follow in a few days. Once we get that, he'll be
good to go."

Kovalchuk tied Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Columbus' Rick Nash
with an NHL-leading 41 goals in 2003-04. Though he missed the first
three games this season, Kovalchuk shouldn't need long to regain
his scoring touch.

Bondra has scored 70 or more points in six of 14 NHL seasons. He
and Savard racked up five points in the first three games of the
season, helping the Thrashers to a 2-1 start.

Kovalchuk is excited to get in on the scoring fun.

"I'm just going to play my game, you know?" Kovalchuk said.
"Because the rules have changed right now, I think there's been
more room for offensive guys and a lot of shots, a lot of
opportunities."

The Thrashers are outscoring opponents by an average of 5-2 per
game.

"We're very excited, you know, and Ilya is the final piece we
had to get done," Waddell said. "I've said all along, 'We're
going to score some goals.' Watching some of what's happened with
the guys we've brought in here and not knowing exactly how they
would do, I think we're going to win a lot of hockey games this
season."

Kovalchuk has no immediate plans to make any big purchases now
that his new deal is on the books. He and his girlfriend, who have
a new baby girl, have an apartment in New York, but the No. 1
overall pick in the 2001 draft doesn't expect to buy a mansion in
the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta.

Until this week, Kovalchuk spent no time in the metropolitan
area since the NHL lockout led to the cancellation of last season.

"I live in my car now," Kovalchuk said with a smile. "My
girlfriend -- we have a baby sitter, so everything will be OK."