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Thrashers keep playoff hopes alive despite Ovechkin's 50th

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Thrashers are determined to take the
playoff race right down to the last game.

Marian Hossa scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second
period, then added an empty netter with 25 seconds to go that
carried the Thrashers past the Washington Capitals 5-3 on Thursday
night.

Atlanta pulled within two points of defending Stanley Cup
champion Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot in the Eastern
Conference. Both teams have three games remaining.

"The fumes are coming out, but we're still running," Thrashers
coach Bob Hartley said. "We have the pedal to the medal all the
way down. I'm not going to let anyone slow down. We need three more
wins. There's no way we can settle for less."

Indeed, the Thrashers must beat out the Lightning, who would
likely win any tiebreaker scenario for the eighth spot because they
have two more wins and defeated Atlanta in the season series.

Hossa and his linemates, Slava Kozlov and Marc Savard, are doing
their best to get Atlanta to the playoffs for the first time. Hossa
assisted on two goals, giving him four points on the night. Kozlov
had a goal and an assist. Savard had two assists.

"Those guys," Hossa said of the other two, "see the ice
really well. When you get open, they get you the puck. They are
very skilled players."

So is Hossa, who snapped a 3-all tie with 9.3 seconds left in
the second. Olaf Kolzig made the save on Kozlov's initial shot, but
Hossa scooped up the rebound, kicked it to himself at the side of
the goal and backhanded the shot past the sprawling Capitals
goalie.

Then, after the Capitals pulled Kolzig in the final minute and
were on the verge of having a two-man advantage, Hossa knocked
Alexander Ovechkin off the puck at the point and swooped in for the
easiest of goals, his 39th of the season.

That final play ruined a memorable night for Ovechkin, who
scored his 50th goal to become just the second rookie in NHL
history to reach 50 goals and 100 points. Teemu Selanne had 76
goals and 132 points for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93.

"I'm happy he got to 50," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said.
"I would have hated to see him finish at 49 goals. It would have
been sad because I know what it has meant to him."

Atlanta played its third straight game with backup goalie Mike
Dunham, who made 22 saves filling in for injured starter Kari
Lehtonen.

"There was no pressure," Dunham said. "That's part of being a
backup goalie."

Despite the urgency of their situation, the Thrashers got off to
a typically slow start. Just over a minute into the game, Brian
Willsie deflected a shot past Dunham.

Atlanta tied it up on a power play. Hossa escaped from two
Washington players along the boards and slid a pass to Ilya
Kovalchuk streaking down the middle all alone. He knew what to do
with it, firing a perfect wrist shot over Kolzig's glove for his
52nd goal.

The Thrashers made it 2-1 less than two minutes later, this time
with a similar setup by Patrik Stefan. He spun away from a defender
in the corner and spotted Peter Bondra all alone. The ex-Capitals
star let go of a slap shot with such force that it appeared to go
right through Kolzig, who rolled onto his stomach and got up
slowly.

Ovechkin tied it at 2 before the period ended, beating Dunham
with a screened shot from the top of the left circle to join the
elite 50-100 club.

Washington reclaimed the lead in the second. Ovechkin threaded a
perfect cross-ice pass to Dainius Zubrus, who scored his 23rd goal
before Dunham had a chance to react. But Kozlov tied it for the
Thrashers less than a minute later, then set up Hossa's game
winner.

Atlanta nearly got an insurance goal with three minutes to go.
Bobby Holik's shot went off the inside of the post and stayed out,
though the officials stopped play to check the replay.

The Thrashers, who seemed down and out when they lost two
straight at the end of March, have given themselves a chance with
five wins and an overtime loss in seven games this month.

"You don't bother with what people on the outside are saying,"
Hartley said. "I said we would make a run, and we're honest
people. We'll work to the last game and see where it takes us.
We'll either go home or go to the playoffs."

Game Notes
Savard picked up the 400th point of his career with his
first assist. ... Atlanta D Jaroslav Modry went out in the second
period with a hamstring strain after falling awkwardly into the
boards. ... Holik caught Washington's Jamie Heward in the face with
a high stick in the third period. No penalty was called at first,
but the referee sent Holik off for a double-minor when he saw blood
dripping all over the ice. Heward didn't return. ... The Thrashers,
who entered the league in 1999, are one of only two franchises that
have never made the playoffs. Columbus is the other.