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Atlanta Thrashers vs. Washington Capitals @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (30-34-7-4) at Washington Capitals (22-42-8-2).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Atlanta Thrashers look to keep their fading playoff hopes alive when they visit the Washington Capitals.

The Thrashers are 4-2-1-2 in their last nine games, including Friday's come-from-behind 3-2 win over Florida. Ilya Kovalchuk scored his NHL-leading 39th goal with 23.7 seconds remaining to pull out the victory.

The Thrashers remained nine points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games to play. New York defeated Minnesota 3-1 on Friday.

"We don't have too much of a chance," said Kovalchuk, who established a career high for goals. "But we've got to take hold of what we've got and make a final push."

Coach Bob Hartley benched Kovalchuk for much of the third period when he got knocked off the puck behind his own net, allowing Florida to score the go-ahead goal early in the third period.

Kovalchuk returned determined to make up for his mistake.

"That's the talent of Ilya Kovalchuk," Hartley said. "One shift in the game can make a difference."

Andy Sutton added his third goal in two games for Atlanta, while Kari Lehtonen, called up from the minors last week, won his NHL debut with 19 saves.

The 20-year-old Finnish goaltender was the second pick in the 2002 draft.

"I thought it would be great if they got like 20 shots," he said. "That's how it went. The whole team played well in front of me."

The Thrashers activated defenseman Frantisek Kaberle from injured reserve Friday. The team's leading blueliner with three goals and 24 assists, Kaberle sprained his knee against Ottawa on Feb. 19.

The Capitals, already eliminated from the playoff race, snapped a five-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Kip Miller scored the game-winner on the power play goal as the Capitals went a season-best 4-for-7 with the man advantage.

"Special teams was obviously the difference," said goaltender Olaf Kolzig, who made 30 saves. "Showed a lot of guts to battle back and with the personnel in this room it really means a lot.

Josef Boumedienne and Miller each had a goal and two assists as Washington posted its first overtime victory this season.

"We'll take it - any type of win," said Boumedienne. "We are here to win games that's the fun part."

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 71 points, 2nd place (tied), 26 PB, Southeast Division. Capitals - 54 points, 5th place, 43 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 39 goals, 41 assists and 80 points; Francis Lessard, 171 PIM. Capitals - Jeff Halpern, 14 goals, 21 assists and 35 points; Brendan Witt, 107 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 17): Thrashers - Power play: 14.9 percent (55 for 369), 22nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.7 percent (299 for 349), 4th. Capitals - Power play: 19.7 percent (61 for 309), 6th. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (291 for 359), 26th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Pasi Nurminen (25-27-6, 3 SO, 2.75 GAA); Lehtonen (1-0-0, 0, 2.00). Capitals - Kolzig (19-33-7, 2, 2.89); Maxime Ouellet (2-3-1, 1, 3.12).


LAST MEETING: March 13; Thrashers, 5-2. At Atlanta, Shawn McEachern scored to spark a three-goal spurt in the final 6:08 for the Thrashers' first victory in five games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 13-19-3-2 on the road; Capitals - 12-20-5-1 at home.

Associated Press
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