Series (Game 4 of 4)

Winnipeg leads 3-1

Game 1: Thursday, October 4th
Game 2: Thursday, November 8th
Game 3: Monday, November 19th
Game 4: Tuesday, February 26th

Sabres 1

(23-27-1, 54 pts)

Jets 2

(15-34-4, 41 pts)

7:30 PM ET, February 26, 2002

Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia

1 2 3 T
BUF 0 1 01
WPG 0 1 12

M. Hnilicka (Jets - G): Saves: 33, Save Pct.: .971

F. Kaberle (Jets - D): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

J. Cowan (Jets - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 0

Kovalchuk scores team-leading 28th goal

ATLANTA (AP) -- A save on one end led to a goal on the other, and just like that the Atlanta Thrashers stepped into their new role of spoiler.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Rookie Ilya Kovalchuk scored with 3:06 left to give the last-place Thrashers a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

It was a loss that could haunt the Sabres, who enter the NHL's sprint finish in a pack of five teams going for the final playoff spot in the East, separated by seven points.

Buffalo, with 54 points, is seven behind the eighth-place New York Rangers.

"This hurts a lot," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "There's nothing to be happy about. We didn't win the game and that's the bottom line. You win any way you can ... and we didn't get the job done."

It was the team-leading 28th goal for Kovalchuk, fresh off a bronze medal for Russia at the Olympics. He took off on a 2-on-1 after goalie Milan Hnilicka stopped Rhett Warrener right at the goal line. Kovalchuk looked at linemate Dany Heatley before ripping a long, hard shot past Martin Biron.

"It wasn't just one save," Buffalo center Erik Rasmussen said. "You can't just point out one thing. We played pretty well, but probably the worst thing we did was not burying our chances. You hate to give away points like that at this time of year."

Buffalo plays its final 24 games over the next 46 days, courtesy of the 12-day Olympic break that ended Monday.

Of their final 24 games, the Sabres play 18 against opponents currently over .500, six against division leaders and 12 on the road, where the Sabres are 9-15-3-1.

The Thrashers, 15-34-7-4, have 22 games left. They won the season series from Buffalo 3-1.

"We just need two weeks off every couple of months," joked Atlanta coach Curt Fraser. "I thought we were solid the whole game. I knew Buffalo was going to play a great game. They are trying to move up in the standings and look out for their playoff chances."

After a scoreless first period, Buffalo's Tim Connolly scored at 9:15 of the second with a wrist shot that hit the back pipe and bounced out so quickly that the goal light never came on. A replay was needed to confirm Connolly's 10th goal.

Oddly, as play continued after the goal, Buffalo's Richard Smehlik was whistled for obstruction and the Sabres found themselves short-handed despite having just scored.

Atlanta didn't score on the power play, and barely threatened on offense except for a flurry in the middle of the period.

The Thrashers finally tied it with 0.9 left in the period when Frantisek Kaberle's slap shot from the point trickled in behind Biron.

Atlanta won despite being outshot 34-22.

Game notes

Buffalo's power play -- 0-for-2 -- ranks third-to-last in the NHL, converting just over 12 percent. The Sabres have converted just eight of 83 chances since Slava Kozlov severed his Achilles' tendon Dec. 29. ... Atlanta activated LW Jeff Cowan (fractured hand) from the injured list. ... Buffalo RW Maxim Afinogenov showed off his Olympic bronze medal to teammates at practice Monday, and teammate Rhett Warrener responded by bringing a Canadian flag onto the ice. ... Hnilicka has faced 30 or more shots in 15 of his last 24 starts and 31 times this season.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press