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Atlanta wastes 3-1 lead

ATLANTA (AP) -- Jeff O'Neill had been waiting for this sort of
game all season.

O'Neill brightened up a dismal season with his second career hat
trick, and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied for a 4-3 victory over
the plummeting Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.

O'Neill had only five goals in his first 44 games -- quite a
letdown from previous years. He scored 102 goals the past three
seasons and is tied with Pat Verbeek for fifth on the franchise's
career list with 192.

"I'm a goal scorer," O'Neill said. "That's what I'm supposed
to do. It's unfortunate it hasn't happened so far (this season),
but hopefully I can keep it going."

He scored his second goal of the night at 8:23 of the second
period, sparking a run of three goals in less than six minutes.
Kevyn Adams tied it up at 13:18, and O'Neill scored the winner just
44 seconds later.

Pavel Brendl passed from behind the net to O'Neill, who flipped
a quick backhander past Thrashers goalie Byron Dafoe.

"Three goals go into the net, and all of a sudden you're a
great player," O'Neill said. "I try to play the same way every
night. ... Some people have questioned my character and my desire
to win."

The Thrashers squandered a 3-1 lead after the first period,
extending their winless streak to nine games (0-7-1-1) despite two
goals from All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk.

"It's getting to the point now where it's panic," Dafoe said.
"We've got to stop the bleeding now. In this league, the games go
by so quick. I hope we all realize that."

The Thrashers came out strong, clearly fired up by the presence
of Dany Heatley at the morning skate.

He took the ice with his teammates for the first time since a
preseason car crash killed teammate Dan Snyder. Heatley is
recovering from knee surgery and expected to return this season.

After O'Neill scored first for the Hurricanes, the Thrashers put
together three straight goals against Kevin Weekes. Two of them
were pure brilliance by Kovalchuk.

He took the puck along the boards, beat three players
single-handedly and lifted a perfectly placed shot over Weekes'
left shoulder to put Atlanta up 2-1.

"I tried to bring some energy and some desire to this game,"
Kovalchuk said. "It's my job to score goals."

He increased the lead on the power play with his 24th goal of
the season. After Weekes made a save in front, the Thrashers got
the puck back while Kovalchuk glided to the top of the circle and
tapped his stick impatiently. He took a pass from Frantisek Kaberle
and one-timed a 40-footer past Weekes.

The Carolina goalie was on shaky ground again, one night after
being yanked just 3{ minutes into a game at Tampa Bay. He gave up
two goals on the first two shots of the game in a 5-4 loss to the
Lightning.

"We had them on the ropes," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said.
"I thought Weekes was about to get pulled."

But he bounced back to make 27 saves, including a big glove stop
on Shawn McEachern with about 10 minutes remaining.

"He gave us a chance to win," Adams said of Weekes. "He was
able to slam the door."

It helped to finally get some offensive support. The Hurricanes
have scored four goals in consecutive games for the first time this
season. They reached that level just four times in their first 43
games.

"We had to get a victory," Weekes said. "We were in survival
mode."

Game notes
O'Neill's other hat trick came on Jan. 31, 1997, when the
Hurricanes were still in Hartford. He scored all of the Whalers'
goals in a 6-3 loss at Anaheim. ... The Thrashers had scored just
six goals in their five previous games. ... Dafoe has started three
straight games for the first time this season. ... The teams played
the first leg of a home-and-home; they'll meet again Sunday in
Raleigh, N.C. ... Carolina has dominated the series with the
Thrashers, improving to 13-2-4-3.