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Kovalchuk gets green light 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's looking forward to getting 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.

A few hours later, the 22-year-old Russian forward obtained a
work visa from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, clearing
him to be in the lineup against the Canadiens.

"We're very excited, you know, and Ilya is the final piece we
had to get done," general manager Don 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 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.

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."