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McEachern scores twice, Nurminen saves 33

12/26/2003

ATLANTA (AP) -- Dany Heatley watched the Atlanta Thrashers in
person for the first time this season. Surely, he liked what he
saw.

Pasi Nurminen stopped 34 shots, and Randy Robitallie, J.P.
Vigier and Shawn McEachern each had a goal, helping Atlanta beat
the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Friday night.

The Thrashers won their third straight game just hours after
Heatley spoke publicly for the first time since the car wreck that
killed teammate and friend Dan Snyder. Heatley, who broke his jaw
and tore knee ligaments in the crash, started skating again this
week and hopes to return this season.

"For him, I'm sure this is a big day," Atlanta defenseman Andy
Sutton said. "He's trying to get on with his life. Any progress he
can make toward that is a real bonus for him."

Heatley and his family made the decision to hold the news
conference as a way to continue the healing process, and he readily
admitted the accident has changed him off the ice. He watched the
game from a private box with his family.

"I'm going to think about this forever," Heatley said. "Every
time I go to sleep I think about it, and Dan. It's something I'll
deal with the rest of my life."

Heatley was on the mind of at least one fan, a young girl who
was without a few of her front teeth. She proudly held a sign that
read, "I love my Dany Heatley smile," in reference to Heatley's
gap-toothed look.

"I think that was another good day for Dany," Atlanta coach
Bob Hartley said. "Winning the game makes it a better day."

Ilya Kovalchuk, who teamed with Heatley during their rookie
seasons on a line affectionately called "The Kids," had an
assist. Without Heatley in the lineup, Kovalchuk has blossomed,
staying near the top of the NHL's scoring leaders. He has 21 goals,
tied with Rick Nash of Columbus for most in the league entering the
night.

Brad Lukowich spoiled Nurminen's chance at his third shutout of
the season, scoring on a one-timer after a faceoff with about seven
minutes left. Tampa Bay lost for the sixth time in eight games
(1-6-1-0) and fell to 1-8-3 all-time in Atlanta.

"We were close, but close is not good enough in this league,"
Tampa Bay right wing Martin St. Louis said. "Our work ethic is
right. I don't feel like we're not working hard."

The first sellout crowd of the season saw Atlanta increase its
lead in the Southeast Division to eight points over the Lightning.

"The deciding factor was we had 20 scoring changes and didn't
finish," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We simply can't
score a goal. Nurminen was the difference, there's no question
about it."

For the third straight game, the Thrashers jumped to an early
lead. Robitaille took a cross-ice pass from Jeff Cowan, then
quickly slapped the puck passed Nikolai Khabibulin for a 1-0 lead.

The pass was intended for Kovalchuk, who was taken down in front
of the net by Andre Roy. A penalty was forthcoming on Roy, but
Robitaille's goal canceled it.

"We wanted to get out to a good start," Robitaille said. "It
was an important game."

Vigier made it 2-0 with a bad-angle shot from the boards, then
McEachern added an empty-net goal with 8 seconds left.

Game notes
Atlanta called up LW Zdenek Blatny from Chicago of the AHL
before the game, but he was a healthy scratch. He was reassigned to
the Wolves on Monday, a day after he was called up for the first
time this season. ... Tampa Bay D Dan Boyle slid into Nurminen and
the net early in the second period, knocking it loose and causing a
brief scrum. No punches were thrown, though. ... Khabibulin stopped
a breakaway by Kovalchuk midway through the second period.