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New York Islanders 3, Atlanta Thrashers 0 FINAL

NHL.com @NHL

ATLANTA (AP) _ No one will blame Ilya Kovalchuk if visions of New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro haunt him the next few days.

DiPietro turned aside all eight of Kovalchuk's shots, many of them in spectacular fashion, to help the Islanders beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-0 Saturday night.

``There's not many guys that can take on NHL defensemen one-on-one and make something happen like he does. I was really impressed with his game,'' DiPietro said of Kovalchuk. ``I was just trying to be patient. He's pretty nifty and he makes a lot of pump fakes. I was just trying to stay on my feet as long as possible.''

Kovalchuk also hit the crossbar once and shot wide a handful of times.

Islanders coach Steve Stirling admitted he cringed as Kovalchuk broke in alone on DiPietro once short-handed and another time on the power play. But he has confidence in DiPietro, who is emerging as New York's No. 1 goalie.

``He's a pretty competitive kid. He's heard the hype,'' said Stirling of DiPietro, a former top overall pick in the NHL draft. ``Rick was equal to the task tonight.''

Asked if he took shutting down Kovalchuk as a personal challenge, DiPietro said he was more interested in taking on Atlanta goaltender Pasi Nurminen.

``Nurminen beat me in the Calder Cup finals a couple years ago and I haven't had a chance to beat him this year so this was a big game for me personally to come out and play well,'' DiPietro said. ``It was two big points. This team's right behind us in the standings.''

DiPietro made 25 saves to earn his second career shutout, both this season. The eighth-place Islanders moved four points ahead of the Thrashers in the Eastern Conference playoff race and snapped Atlanta's three-game unbeaten streak.

The Islanders' suddenly potent power play struck three times against an Atlanta team that began play with the top-rated penalty-killing unit in the NHL.

``We've been hounding on it,'' Stirling said.

The Islanders are 12-for-45 with the man advantage in their past nine games. DiPietro struggled at the start of the season and asked to be sent to the minors to work on his game in late December. He has won four straight starts, including two in 24 hours as the Islanders defeated Carolina 3-2 on Friday.

``I was comfortable at the beginning of the season,'' he said. ``Just getting a chance to play now, play on a consistent basis, and that goes a long way with a goalie's confidence.''

DiPietro, who has relegated veteran Garth Snow to backup status, earned high praise from his teammates.

``Ever since he came back up he's played the way we expected he could play,'' said Jason Blake, who was denied on a penalty shot midway through the second period.

Blake added that Kovalchuk should have had ``four or five'' goals. Kovalchuk didn't speak to reporters after the game.

The Islanders opened the scoring while Atlanta's Ben Simon served a four-minute high sticking penalty. Mattias Weinhandl converted a cross-crease feed from Oleg Kvasha for his fifth of the season at 9:32 of the first period.

Kvasha made it 2-0 at 4:12 of the third period when he tucked a shot under Nurminen's arm for his 10th goal, with an assist from DiPietro. Arron Asham then scored in the game's waning seconds.

The Islanders have won two straight road games after going winless in their previous five away from home.

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