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Hossa scores twice to spark Thrashers past Panthers

Oct 22, 2006 - 2:17 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Marian Hossa hardly needed the Florida Panthers to make things any easier for him.

Hossa scored on a penalty shot and added an empty-net goal to spark the surging Atlanta Thrashers to a 4-2 victory over the Panthers.

Off to the best start in franchise history, Atlanta (6-1-1) beat Florida for the eighth consecutive time at Philips Arena. Hossa, acquired in a trade last season, has been a big reason behind that success.

Hossa has seven goals and eight assists against the Panthers since coming to the Thrashers, including points in the last six meetings.

"It's not only the goals that Hossa is scoring, but it's the leadership he brings," Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen said. "I don't know what he did over the summer, but he is very good right now. I hope he stays that way."

"The confidence is so important," Hossa added. "We are on a roll, but we can't forget it's just the beginning of the year. But so far, we are playing committed and really good defensively, too."

J.P. Vigier and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored for Atlanta, while Lehtonen - who has started every game this season - made 18 saves.

"We are starting to get used to Kari's performances," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "He is giving us a chance to win every game."

Chris Gratton and Joe Nieuwendyk tallied for Florida, which went 1-for-6 on the power play. Nieuwendyk returned from a five-game absence due to a groin injury. Alexander Auld made 20 saves.

After a scoreless opening period, Hossa and Vigier scored in a 64-second span early in the middle session to put the Thrashers ahead for good.

"The two goals they got in the second period, we probably couldn't have avoided, but we showed some character and came back," Florida's Stephen Weiss said. "It was close until the end, but we're not satisfied. We came here to win, but it wasn't for a lack of effort."

Gratton notched his first goal of the season with 1:43 left in the period to halve the deficit, but Kovalchuk got back that one just 1:45 into the third, beating Auld with a long slap shot for a 3-1 lead.

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