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New York Rangers 2, Atlanta Thrashers 3 FINAL

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ATLANTA (AP) _ His brief punishment over, Ilya Kovalchuk got back to doing what he does best _ scoring goals.

Kovalchuk bounced back from a one-game benching to score his NHL-leading 34th and 35th goals, and the Atlanta Thrashers held off the New York Rangers 3-2 Sunday.

A starter for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game earlier in the month, Kovalchuk missed a team meeting before Friday night's game against the New Jersey Devils. Coach Bob Hartley held him out of that game, won by the Thrashers.

``I apologized to the team, and I just wanted to show them I was ready to go today,'' Kovalchuk said. ``That's my favorite thing to do in my life, is to play hockey.''

Patrik Stefan added a short-handed goal, and Daniel Tjarnqvist had two assists for the Thrashers, who won for the fifth time in eight games. Pasi Nurminen made 28 saves.

``Discipline is a big part of life,'' Hartley said of Kovalchuk's punishment. ``He's a great hockey player, and he's certainly a great part of this organization. He has a lot to offer on the ice, but like any other 20-year-old, he has a lot to learn.''

Brian Leetch and Chris Simon had goals for the Rangers, and Mark Messier had two assists. But New York finished 0-for-7 on the power play, including one late advantage when the Thrashers were called for too many on the ice.

Nurminen stopped a blast from Jaromir Jagr, the best chance during the penalty, and New York didn't threaten again.

``I don't know how many power plays we had, but we didn't do anything with them,'' Leetch said. ``Lately, we've had more power plays than penalties.''

The Rangers fell to 5-16 in one-goal games and lost for the seventh time in nine games overall, including an overtime defeat at Nashville on Saturday. The only two victories in that span were part of a season sweep of the New York Islanders.

``We're trying to win hockey games, but it's going to take the entire bench,'' said Rangers interim coach Tom Renney, who fell to 1-2 since replacing Glen Sather. ``I don't play to showcase people or get the young guys ice time or anything like that. We are a function of 20 guys every game and we need them all.''

It didn't take long for Kovalchuk to make his presence felt. On his first shift, he got a drop pass from Randy Robitaille and sent a slap shot that Mike Dunham knocked away with his stick.

Minutes later, Kovalchuk scored his first goal after Robitaille won a faceoff in the New York zone. The second came off a nifty pass from Dany Heatley, who sent a diagonal pass from near the blue line to Kovalchuk near the crease.

Kovalchuk waited patiently and then beat Dunham glove side for a 3-1 lead.

``I was all alone, with nobody close to me,'' Kovalchuk said. ``I like to play against the Rangers. They're a real offensive team and we always get lots of chances.''

Stefan's goal gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead late in the second period.

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