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Talks continue with two potential buyers who would keep Thrashers in Atlanta

Atlanta Thrashers' Chris Thorburn, right, beats New Jersey Devils defenseman Mark Fayne on a breakaway before scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 15, 2011, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Atlanta Thrashers' Chris Thorburn, right, beats New Jersey Devils defenseman Mark Fayne on a breakaway before scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 15, 2011, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

ATLANTA - Thrashers co-owner Bruce Levenson said Thursday that talks are continuing with two potential buyers who would keep the team in Atlanta.

Levenson said there has been increased interest in the team following last month's announcement by another co-owner, Michael Gearon Jr., that there was a "sense of urgency" in the search if the team is to remain in Atlanta. That increased interest led to talks with three possible buyers.

"We have continued to have dialogue with two of those parties," Levenson told The Associated Press. "We have not had discussions with the third party in a couple of weeks.

"I believe both these parties emerged at least in part as a result of Michael's comments last month regarding a sense of urgency."

Levenson said the owners have talked only with potential buyers who want to keep the team in Atlanta.

The ownership group also owns the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena, which is home to both teams.

Levenson said none of the talks with potential buyers have involved the Hawks.

The owners say they have lost more than US$130 million since 2005.

Asked last month when he might give up on finding a new ownership for the Thrashers to remain in Atlanta and turn his search to those wishing to move the team, Gearon said "That's a Gary Bettman question."

Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has said he wants the team to remain in Atlanta. Bettman said last month any problems with the Thrashers "ultimately will have to be dealt with."

Gearon and Levenson have said they are willing to retain minority shares of the Thrashers or sell all their interests in the team.

The Thrashers' playoff hopes are fading. They are tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference, six points behind Buffalo, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot entering play Thursday.

Atlanta ranks 28th among 30 NHL teams with its average home attendance of 13,121.

The search for investors was hurt by a long legal dispute which ended when Gearon and Levenson bought out Boston-based Steve Belkin's 30-per cent share in December.

The owners have filed a new lawsuit against their former law firm, claiming faulty legal work is largely to blame for their financial predicament.

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