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Thrashers 5, Blue Jackets 2 @NHLdotcom

ATLANTA (AP) - Ronald Petrovicky has learned that playing time must be earned.

Petrovicky made a point that he deserves more playing time as he finished off his first three-goal game with an empty-net goal, powering the Atlanta Thrashers to a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Petrovicky, recently benched for six straight games by coach Bob Hartley, had only one point in three games since returning to the lineup. But he broke out against the Blue Jackets with the hat trick, scoring twice in the second period.

"(Hartley) was trying to send a message, to me and to all the other guys, that we have to work hard to be in the lineup," Petrovicky said. "You have to keep working hard, keep improving and play the game the right way."

The two goals in the second period came in a span of 2 minutes. Petrovicky's first goal came on a power play following the fourth of five penalties on Geoff Platt, a rookie playing in only his third game.

"Tonight I was just irresponsible," Platt said. "... I had a miserable collapse. It was a mental collapse on my part. I've never had that many before."

Columbus coach Gerard Gallant said five second-period penalties "took the wind out of us."

"When we give up one goal, we just can't give up the second and third one," Gallant said.

There may have been other Atlanta players on Hartley's bad list during a five-game losing streak that ended with the win. The Thrashers took a much-needed win after falling six games below .500 - a low point for the season.

"Petrovicky came through tonight," said Thrashers goalie Michael Garnett. "Our offense has struggled lately and for him to step up like that was huge."

Petrovicky's third goal - and fifth of the season - came after Columbus pulled goalie Marc Denis with just over a minute left.

Columbus, playing back-to-back nights after a Thursday night win over the New York Islanders, fell to 3-12 on the road.

The Blue Jackets were without center and assists leader Manny Malhotra, placed on injured reserve Friday because of a shoulder injury. Malhotra, injured Thursday night, is out indefinitely.

Marc Savard and Serge Aubin also scored for the Thrashers, and Garnett stopped 26 shots in the first of three straight home games for the Thrashers.

"I think we have a good schedule the end of December and we're really going to take advantage of it," Hartley said.

Jaroslav Balastik and Nikolai Zherdev scored for Columbus.

The Thrashers broke a 1-1 tie with three goals in the second period, the first two by Petrovicky, who had been held without a goal since Oct. 22, when he had two goals against New Jersey.

Ilya Kovalchuk assisted on each of Petrovicky's three goals.

Atlanta made it 4-1 when Aubin charged the net and flipped the puck past Columbus goalie Pascal Leclaire before crashing into the boards behind the net. Gallant pulled Leclaire after the goal, bringing in Denis.

"You're never relieved to come out," Leclaire said. "It's no fun to be pulled."

Columbus cut it to 4-2 when Zherdev scored by slapping a rebound off Garnett past the goalie into the net.

Savard gave the Thrashers a 1-0 lead with his 12th goal on a pass from Marian Hossa less than 6 minutes into the game.

With 1:30 left in the opening period, Atlanta's J.P. Vigier was called for hooking, setting up Balastik's power-play goal with 40 seconds left in the period.

LeClaire stopped 11 of 15 shots.

Notes: Balastik's goal was the second of his NHL career. ... The Blue Jackets are 1-15 when their opponent scores the first goal. ... Kovalchuk has not scored a goal in six straight games. He has four assists in that period, including three Friday night. ... The Thrashers placed forward Peter Bondra and goalie Steve Shields on injured reserve Thursday.

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