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Kovalchuk's hat trick leads sizzling Thrashers to 6-3 win over Panthers

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Kovalchuk's hat trick leads sizzling Thrashers to 6-3 win over Panthers

The Canadian Press
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The Thrashers set a franchise record with five power-play goals, including three by Ilya Kovalchuk, as they continued the best start in franchise history with a 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers. "The last couple of games we've struggled on the power play, so it was nice to have it be such a big part of the win tonight," said captain Scott Mellanby, who scored Atlanta's only goal at even strength.

Atlanta finished 5-for-7 on the power play. The Thrashers had been 4-for-31 with the man advantage in their previous six games.

The previous franchise record for power-play goals in a game was four, which the Thrashers had done seven times.

"Sometimes we try to do too much (on the power play)," Kovalchuk said. "We just have to throw pucks at the net and good things will happen."

Atlanta 9 (7-1-1) has 15 points, the most ever for the Thrashers in October.

"I'm pleased with how everything is going so far," said Marian Hossa, who also had a power-play goal for Atlanta. "But it's only nine or 10 games. We've got a lot of games in front of us."

Steve Rucchin had the fifth power-play score for the Thrashers with 42 seconds left in the third period. Vyacheslav Kozlov had four assists.

Florida, which entered the game first in the league in power-play efficiency at 27.9, was 0-for-6.

"I give them credit, but I think we gave them some goals," said Panthers captain Olli Jokinen. "We've got to get better on the PK. Five-on-five it was a pretty even game."

Joel Kwiatkowski, Bryan Allen and Jozef Stumpel scored for Florida, which lost at home for the first time in five games.

Atlanta is 3-0 against Florida this season. The Thrashers beat the Panthers 4-2 at Atlanta on Saturday night. Atlanta was 1-for-8 on the power play in that game.

"Some nights are like tonight," Hossa said. "The last time we played them, they played awesome PK. The special teams were working for us tonight."

Kari Lehtonen, who has started every game for Atlanta, made 25 saves.

Florida goalie Alex Auld (3-3-1) gave up five goals on 19 shots before being pulled after the second period with the Panthers trailing 5-2. Ed Belfour stopped seven of eight shots in the third.

Atlanta trailed 2-0 before Kovalchuk scored his first goal with 2:05 left in the first period on a one-timer from the slot.

"That was a huge goal," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "Getting back between the first and second period, you could hear the players. We didn't have to say anything. I knew they'd be better."

The Thrashers then took advantage of a 5-on-3 to score twice in 36 seconds in the second.

Hossa tied the game 2-2 with his sixth goal in four games when he took a pass across the crease from Mellanby. Kovalchuk then stopped a clearing attempt by Florida in the slot and beat Auld with a wrist shot just under the crossbar.

After Mellanby scored on a breakaway by taking a loose puck coming out of the penalty box, Kovalchuk completed his hat trick when he took a feed from Kozlov inside the blue line, skated in and beat Auld to the glove side.

It was Kovalchuk's fifth goal in the last four games after he went scoreless in the first five. Kovalchuk had 52 goals last season.

"Kovi is the type of scorer who even though he can go a few games without scoring, he can get his numbers back where they should be pretty quickly," Hartley said.

Florida took a 2-0 lead with two goals in 23 seconds apart in the first period.

Kwiatkowski, a defenceman moved to forward because of injuries, opened the scoring when he tipped in Steve Montador's slap shot from the point.

Allen then scored on a 3-on-2 rush when he took Jokinen's cross-ice pass and beat Lehtonen on the short side.

"That was probably 20 of our best minutes of the year," Auld said of the first period. "I thought we were playing really well. They got that five-on-three and the momentum changed in their favour."

Notes: Florida RW Todd Bertuzzi missed his third consecutive game because of back spasms. ... This was Kovalchuk s fifth career hat trick, his first since Jan. 6, 2006 at Pittsburgh. ... Atlanta's previous mark for most points in October was 13, set in 2003 when the Thrashers went 5-3-2-1. ... This was the first game of Atlanta's season-long five-game road trip. The Thrashers play at Carolina Wednesday, followed by games at Philadelphia, Buffalo and Toronto.

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Kovalchuk's hat trick leads sizzling Thrashers to 6-3 win over Panthers