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
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
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