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Kovalchuk, Hedberg send Thrashers to best start in history with 4-2 win over Buffalo

NHL.com @NHL

Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice, and Johan Hedberg made 40 saves and added an assist in his first start of the season to help send the Atlanta Thrashers to their best start in franchise history with a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

Todd White and Maxim Afinogenov also scored for the Thrashers, whose 4-1-0 start is the best beginning to a season since the team's inception in 1999.

Hedberg continued his mastery of the Sabres by improving to 11-2-1 lifetime against Buffalo, and helped hand the Sabres (4-1-1) their first regulation loss of the season.

Clarke MacArthur and Drew Stafford scored for the Sabres. Buffalo entered the game as the lone team in the NHL to be defeated in regulation.

Patrick Lalime made his first start of the season, and finished with 23 saves in the loss.

Buffalo was again without high-scoring left wing Thomas Vanek, who missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury.

The Thrashers got 12 of the game's first 13 shots in the opening 10 minutes.

But after that sluggish start, Buffalo outshot the Thrashers 41-15 in the final 50 minutes - including a 20-4 advantage in the third period - but were thwarted continuously by the spectacular play of Hedberg.

Kovalchuk opened the scoring on the power play nearly seven minutes into the game with a wrister from the high slot that went into the top-right corner.

Kovalchuk tallied again for his second of the night three minutes later when he one-timed a shot from the slot after receiving a pass from Bryan Little.

MacArthur cut the lead in half with his team-leading fourth of the season 6:56 into the second period, sending a slap shot from the outer edge of the left circle that handcuffed Hedberg.

Atlanta regained its two-goal lead 57 seconds later when White scored the Thrashers' second power-play goal of the game.

Stafford made it 3-2 with 3:34 remaining in regulation, but Afinogenov countered 17 seconds later with a splendid individual effort that was started by Hedberg.

Notes: Enter the game, the Thrashers had played the fewest games (four) in the league. ... Sabres C Adam Mair played in his first game of the season after having hip surgery. ... Three former Sabres - Chris Thorburn, Eric Boulton and Afinogenov - skated for the Thrashers. ... Atlanta has won the past five meetings with Buffalo.

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