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Heatley scores winner on power play

2/28/2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Bob Hartley let Ilya Kovalchuk's
absence from Atlanta's lineup remain a mystery. He really didn't
seem to care on a night the Thrashers won without their leading
scorer.

Dany Heatley scored on a power play with 5:48 remaining, and the
undermanned Thrashers stunned the listless New Jersey Devils 3-2 on
Friday night.

Hartley refused to say why Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch,
although a team spokesman said a television report that he missed a
team meeting was accurate.

"You better ask him, he knows," Hartley said of Kovalchuk,
whose 33 goals is tied for the league lead. "I don't know what
happened."

Hartley acknowledged the decision to bench Kovalchuk was his.

"You want the reason why he didn't play, he has the reason. I
don't," Hartley said. "I coached 20 guys and we won, it's plain
and simple."

When pressed, Hartley said: "He was not at practice and he was
not at the game, period."

Garnet Exelby and Patrik Stefan were there and scored, and Pasi
Nurminen had 15 saves as the Thrashers ended a two-game losing
streak and spoiled the 1,000th game for New Jersey Devils coach Pat
Burns.

"Regardless of (whether) Kovy is in the lineup or not, we can't
expect him to score all our goals every night," said Exelby, who
got his first NHL goal. "We are going to have to help him once in
a while."

Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias scored for the Devils, who put up
a lackluster effort in having their three-game winning streak
ended.

"They have a good team, but a lot of this had to do with the
start," Gionta said. "We were sleeping there for a while."

New Jersey was also a little unfortunate as Scott Gomez and Paul
Martin had third-period shots hit off the goal post.

Heatley, who set up Stefan's goal, deflected a shot by
defenseman Andy Sutton past Martin Brodeur with defenseman Scott
Niedermayer in the penalty box for high sticking. Earlier in the
period, Heatley had another power-play shot slide along the goal
line and not go in.

"I just one-handed it," Heatley said. "Sutsy got a good shot
on. We tried to keep it simple on the PP. I just got a little
tip."

After registering few scoring chances in the opening 27 minutes,
the teams combined to score four goals on four shots in a 2:13
span.

Exelby opened the scoring at 7:51 of the second period. The
22-year-old, second-year defenseman stopped a clearing pass by Mike
Rupp and bounced a shot from the left point past Brodeur. The shot
appeared to deflect off a Devils player.

Twenty-nine seconds later, Exelby gave the goal back. He lost
the puck behind the Thrashers' net and Elias made a quick
cross-crease pass that Gionta slammed home for his third goal in
two games.

Stefan put Atlanta ahead 80 seconds later, taking a cross-ice
pass from Heatley on a two-on-one break and firing a shot into an
open net.

New Jersey needed only 24 seconds to equalize. Gomez poked a
loose puck to Elias after another Atlanta turnover and the left
wing scored his eighth goal in five games by knuckling a shot past
Nurminen.

Atlanta had a great chance to take the lead minutes later when
Grant Marshall of New Jersey was penalized seven minutes for
roughing and then hitting Ben Simon at 14:41.

The Thrashers killed off their own power play by picking up
three minors before the period ended, including two that gave New
Jersey a four-on-three man advantage.

Game notes
Thrashers C Marc Savard, who missed most of last month with
a knee injured, did not play in the third period after sustaining
another undisclosed knee injury. ... Devils F Jamie Langenbrunner missed part of the second period after taking a high stick by Serge Aubin. Kovalchuk missed his first game of the season. ... Gomez and
Jeff Cowan of Atlanta got into a third-period fight in the
Thrashers' bench.