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Atlanta ends 14-game skid vs. Pittsburgh

12/31/2002

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- When the puck is on Ilya Kovalchuk's stick,
all the Atlanta Thrashers need is one shot.

After goaltender Pasi Nurminen stopped all seven shots by the
Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime, Kovalchuk beat Jean-Sebastien
Aubin on a breakaway with just 20 seconds to play. That lifted the
Thrashers to a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night, their
first win ever against the Penguins.

"I think he's missed maybe one time on a breakaway now in two
seasons,'' Atlanta defenseman Daniel Tjarnqvist said.

Tjarnqvist kicked the puck ahead to Kovalchuk just inside the
Atlanta blue line before the Thrashers' leading scorer skated away
from defenseman Ian Moran to score his 21st goal of the season and
second career overtime goal.

"When he gets the puck on a breakaway, you usually just count
it as a goal,'' teammate Shawn McEachern said. "He's like a Pavel
Bure or a Mario Lemieux in that situation. It's almost automatic.''

Kovalchuk's goal ended Atlanta's 14-game losing streak against
Pittsburgh and came three days after the Thrashers beat Carolina
for the first time.

"We never beat this team before, so it's a happy new year for
us right now,'' Kovalchuk said. "We feel good. Every time we would
lose by one goal or maybe two, but today we won.''

The Penguins rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the first period on
the strength of Milan Kraft's first career two-goal game. He scored
the second with just 5:53 to play.

Pittsburgh held a 37-26 shots advantage but failed on all seven
power plays, including one in overtime.

"Our goaltender made some huge saves, and I was looking for an
opportunity to put Kovalchuk on the ice,'' coach Don Waddell said.
"With about 45 seconds left, we got him on the ice and that's what
he's capable of doing when he gets an opportunity.''

The Thrashers are 2-1 under general manager Waddell, who took
over as coach after firing Curt Fraser.

Andy Sutton gave Atlanta the lead at 4:46 of the first period
when he took a pass from Per Svartvadet and fired a wrist shot past
Aubin for his first career short-handed goal. Svartvadet appeared
to be offside on the right wing.

The Thrashers took a 2-0 lead at 17:39 of the first period when
Dany Heatley set up in the slot and converted a pass from Kovalchuk
on the power play. It was Heatley's 10th goal of the season and
second in three games since returning from a groin injury.

"I thought we had a sluggish first period,'' said Pittsburgh
coach Rick Kehoe, whose team had won its previous four games. "We
picked it up in the second. But give those guys credit -- they have
been playing hard the last few games.''

Kraft cut it to 2-1 at 9:51 of the second period when he fired a
wrist shot from between the circles past Nurminen for his fourth
goal. It also extended his career-high scoring streak to seven
games.

Kraft converted Martin Straka's pass from behind the net for the
tying goal, but Nurminen's strong play set the stage for
Kovalchuk's heroics and the Thrashers' second consecutive road
victory.

"We're all competing harder,'' McEachern said. "That 4-on-3
power play in overtime was tough to take, but every time they did
get a chance, our goaltender stopped them.''

Game notes
Moran played in his 400th career game, while Kovalchuk
played in his 100th. ... Pittsburgh scratched Randy Robitaille,
while the Thrashers played without Byron Dafoe (groin), Chris
Herperger (flu) and Jeff Cowan (groin). ... Atlanta's Patrik Stefan
assisted on Heatley's goal for his 100th career point. ... The
Thrashers have allowed just six goals since Waddell took over as
coach. ... Pittsburgh was 0-for-7 on the power play.