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Atlanta Thrashers 3, New Jersey Devils 2 FINAL @NHLdotcom

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.

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