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Kovalchuk's hat trick keeps Thrashers rolling

Oct 24, 2006 - 2:54 AM SUNRISE, Florida (Ticker) -- Ilya Kovalchuk helped prevent a sour start to a long road trip.

Kovalchuk recorded his fifth career hat trick as the Atlanta Thrashers scored five consecutive goals en route to a 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers in the finale of a home-and-home series.

Vyacheslav Kozlov had a career-high four assists and Marian Hossa added his third goal in the last two games for the Thrashers, who opened a five-game trek with their fourth straight win.

"The team is playing better, so it's easier (for me) to get on a streak," Hossa said.

Unlike Friday's opener, in which the Thrashers played from in front the entire way before winning, 4-2, they had to dig themselves out of an early 2-0 hole on Monday.

Kovalchuk sparked the rally late in the opening period.

With Atlanta on the power play with 2:05 left in the session, Kovalchuk blasted a slap shot past goaltender Alex Auld, halving the deficit.

"Kovie's goal late in the first period on the power play was a big boost for us," said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, who recorded his 100th career win. "We knew we could be better ... that was a huge goal."

After Hossa tallied with the man advantage 10:50 into the second for a 2-2 tie, Kovalchuk netted his second power-play goal just 76 seconds later, giving the Thrashers the lead for good.

Scott Mellanby tallied three minutes later before Kovalchuk completed his first hat trick this season with another power-play goal with 4:07 remaining in the session for a 5-3 lead.

"The last couple of years if I don't score and we lose, that's the worst feeling," Kovalchuk said. "Tonight, I was able to (take advantage) on the penalties."

Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves for Atlanta, which went 5-for-7 with the man advantage.

Auld stopped 14 shots before being replaced by Ed Belfour, who made seven saves. Olli Jokinen had two assists for the Panthers, who fell to 4-1-0 at home this season.

"The first period we played well, we put the puck in the net," Jokinen said. "In the second period we stopped playing, took some penalties and they scored on the power plays. I give them credit but I think we gave them some goals. We've got to get better on the PK (penalty kill)."

"They (the Thrashers) have a lot of skill and a lot of big guns and they really capitalized," Auld said.

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