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Carolina Hurricanes 0, Atlanta Thrashers 1 FINAL OT

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ATLANTA (AP) _ Dany Heatley picked a good time for his first game-winning goal at home.

Heatley's backhander from the right side of the crease beat goaltender Kevin Weekes with 3:17 left in overtime, giving the Atlanta Thrashers a 1-0 victory Monday night over the Carolina Hurricanes.

``It snuck through his 5-hole,'' Heatley said. ``There was traffic in front, and I found a hole.''

The Thrashers kept alive their slim Eastern Conference playoff hopes. Atlanta is in 11th place, eight points behind the idle New York Islanders, who hold the eighth and final spot.

Ilya Kovalchuk was against the left boards when he passed to Heatley, who was skating backward, at the bottom of the right circle. Heatley faked a pass to Shawn Heins in front of the goal before beating Weekes by punching the puck just inside the right post.

``Heins went to the net hard, and Kovy made a great play,'' Heatley said. ``I thought we played pretty well tonight.''

Heatley, in his 22nd game since returning from injuries in a car wreck that also killed his friend and teammate Dan Snyder, got his 10th point in 11 games, including five goals. Pasi Nurminen (25-26-6) stopped 31 shots, including two in overtime.

Weekes (22-26-10) stopped 24 shots, including one in overtime.

``The goal was a great play by Heatley,'' Weekes said. ``I thought he was going to pass it and that was not his strong side. It was a great play.''

Kovalchuk, tied for the NHL lead with 37 goals, stirred up a second period that included 10 penalties, six by Atlanta. The fiery Kovalchuk, irritated that he missed two slap shots during a power play, became angrier after Carolina successfully challenged the curve of his blade, emerged from the penalty box at 14:07.

Within 45 seconds, Kovalchuk was serving a five-minute major for elbowing defenseman Bret Hedican. Kovalchuk acknowledged his guilt on both penalties.

``It was not a cheap call,'' Kovalchuk said of referee Marc Joannette's ruling. ``He said the curve was too big.''

Regarding his hit on Hedican, Kovalchuck added that his elbow was too high.

``I didn't want to hurt him,'' Kovalchuk said. ``The referee was right there.''

The Hurricanes never got off a shot despite having a two-man advantage for the first 20 seconds of Kovalchuk's major. Carolina's Justin Williams made Atlanta's penalty killing easier, though, when he was penalized for running over Nurminen after the goalie intercepted Sean Hill's pass from the right circle at 16:12.

``Everybody was running over everybody,'' Nurminen said. ``The boys were really battling for every inch of the ice, and I enjoyed that.''

Nurminen's 27th save was his best. He fell backward toward the right post and stopped Erik Cole's breakaway with 3:18 remaining in the game.

``I tried to bring it across in front of the net and wait him out,'' Cole said. ``I thought I had an opening, but he made a great move.''

The Hurricanes lost for the first time in five road games. Overall, Carolina fell to 7-4-2-2 in its last 15 games. Atlanta improved to 2-6-3-2 all-time in home games with Carolina and 4-14-4-4 in the Southeast Division series.

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