<
>

Thrashers' Kovalchuk to miss two games with right knee injury

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk will miss
at least two games but apparently avoided serious injury to his
right knee when he was hurt in Wednesday night's game against
Pittsburgh.

Thrashers general manager and interim coach Don Waddell said
Kovalchuk would have a "precautionary" MRI exam on the knee
Thursday afternoon.

Waddell said he was encouraged that Kovalchuk felt better
Thursday. He had no substantial swelling in the knee and was
walking without a limp.

The news was good, but the Thrashers must adjust to the loss of
their top scorer for at least two games while they fight for a
playoff spot. Waddell said Kovalchuk would miss Friday's home game
against Buffalo and Saturday's game at Washington.

"We're going to need other guys to chip in, there's no doubt
about it," Waddell said. "But we've said all along we can't rely
on one or two guys to score all your goals."

Atlanta had good balance as four players -- Kovalchuk, Bobby Holik, Eric Perrin and Jim Slater
-- scored against the Penguins.

The Thrashers are two points behind first-place Carolina, which
plays Toronto on Thursday night, in the Southeast Division.

Kovalchuk scored his 38th goal in Wednesday night's 4-1 win over
Pittsburgh before he was injured in a knee-on-knee hit from
Penguins left winger Jarkko Ruutu 3:21 into the second period. The
hit left Kovalchuk lying on the ice in obvious pain before he
limped to the locker room.

Atlanta's Steve McCarthy retaliated by punching Ruutu while
pinning the forward against the boards, earning a minor penalty for
instigating, a major for fighting and a misconduct. Ruutu drew a
pair of majors for kneeing and fighting, and was ejected.

Ruutu said he was only trying to make a routine check on
Kovalchuk, who tried to dodge the hit at the last second but left
his leg in Ruutu's path.

"I meant to finish my check," Ruutu said. "He ducked away and
I barely hit him. I didn't change direction. I just went for a
hit."

Waddell stopped short of saying the hit by Ruutu was a cheap
shot, though he said Ruutu "came after him pretty hard."

"The league looks at all these situations," Waddell said.
"I'm sure they've looked at it 100 times already. We'll leave that
to the league. The referees made the right call, I thought, on the
ice. From here, it's out of our hands."