Kovalchuk escapes penalty box to beat Oilers

ATLANTA (AP) -- An illegal stick sent Ilya Kovalchuk to the
penalty box. A good one scored a goal when he got out.

After being whistled for using a bad stick in the third period of a tie game, the rookie stepped out of the box, took a breakout pass and scored the go-ahead goal as the Atlanta Thrashers beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 Tuesday night.

Yannick Tremblay and Jeff Odgers also scored for Atlanta, and
goalie Pasi Nurminen won in his first NHL start as he outdueled
fellow Finnish Olympian Jussi Markkanen.

Kovalchuk, who admitted that the bulk of his sticks still have
the bigger curve used in Europe, borrowed teammate Shean Donovan's stick for the goal. And after scoring his team-leading 27th, he skated past the Oilers bench and uttered a few words.

"I simply asked them if the stick was OK now," the 18-year-old Russian said through an interpreter.

And, yes, the Oilers understood him.

"I guess he's too young to learn that what goes around comes around," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "He's a very cocky kid."

MacTavish wasn't any happier with his own players, who extended their road winless streak to a franchise record-tying nine games (0-6-3).

"It just seemed like we were a selfish hockey team," MacTavish said. "We can't score goals right now. And to give them the number of opportunities they had was embarrassing to the hockey club. They looked like the more skilled team."

Atlanta coach Curt Fraser said it was a matter of time before somebody saw the amount of curve in Kovalchuk's blade. But he was surprised that it was Edmonton forward Mike Comrie, who got a good look at Kovalchuk's lumber at the YoungStars Game last weekend when Kovalchuk scored six goals.

"I've been working on him all year," Fraser said. "Maybe this is a good lesson for him. I'm surprised it hasn't been called more. But the word's out now."

Just as the word is out on Kovalchuk's skill.

Stepping out of the penalty box at 8:11 of the third period,
Kovalchuk took a perfect pass from Dany Heatley. Mike Grier pulled on Kovalchuk from behind, but the Atlanta forward fired a shot that trickled through Markkanen's pads at 8:18.

Kovalchuk lay on the ice for a few moments and received aid from a trainer after colliding with Grier. Kovalchuk didn't miss a shift.

Less than a minute later, Odgers made it 3-1 when he one-timed a pass from Tony Hrkac for his third goal of the season.

Comrie got the Oilers back within a goal when he tapped in his career-high 21st with the extra attacker on and 1:33 left.

"We played the type of game that we don't win when we play it," Comrie said. "We have to go out and play our game, and that's being physical and not making any mistakes."

Markkanen started in place of Swedish Olympian Tommy Salo, who came down with the flu last weekend at the All-Star game in Los Angeles. Salo feared taking medication that might jeopardize his participation in the Salt Lake City Games.

Nurminen was in for Milan Hnilicka, who was merely getting a
rest after starting 27 of the past 31 Atlanta games.

Nurminen made his NHL debut a week ago in relief of Hnilicka in a 6-0 loss to Toronto.

The Thrashers are 4-3-1 in last their seven home games. The Oilers, however, haven't won on the road since Dec. 16, and play their next three at St. Louis, Dallas and Phoenix.

Neither team recorded a shot on goal for the first 4:47, but
when Edmonton's Jochen Hecht finally let one rip, his wrister from
the left circle knocked Nurminen's helmet off.

Atlanta didn't get a shot off until more than nine minutes
elapsed. Outshot 15-9 in the first period, the Thrashers kept it
even the rest of the way and were outshot 41-35 overall.

Edmonton was outshooting Atlanta 10-2 when Yannick Tremblay put
the Thrashers ahead with his fifth goal -- a one-timer off a pass
from Daniel Tjarnqvist at 11:50 of the first.

Just 47 seconds later, Daniel Cleary knocked in a rebound to tie it 1-1 with his eighth.

Game notes
G Pasi Nurminen became the fifth rookie to start in goal
for the Thrashers in less than three seasons, joining Norm Maracle,
Scott Langkow, Scott Fankhouser and Hnilicka. ... Both teams went
0-for-3 on the power play. Atlanta is 2-for-29 on the power play
since notching four man-advantage goals in a 6-1 victory over
Florida on Jan. 19. ... This was the only meeting between the teams
this season. The series is tied 2-2. ... The Oilers are the only
NHL team with two Olympic-bound goalies.