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Lehtonen records shutout as Thrashers beat Panthers again

Nov 26, 2006 - 2:54 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- A home game against the division rival Florida Panthers proved to be just what Kari Lehtonen and the Atlanta Thrashers needed.

Lehtonen made 37 saves to record his third shutout this season as the Thrashers held on for a 1-0 triumph over the Panthers.

It was just the second victory in the last seven games for Atlanta, which improved to 4-0-0 against Florida this season. Lehtonen has been a huge part of that success, posting a .953 save percentage in recording all four wins.

"I don't know what it is," Lehtonen said. "There are always some teams you like to play against and feel good against. The two teams for me are Florida and Washington. I've been doing all right against them."

The second overall selection in 2002, Lehtonen was brilliant again Saturday in recording his sixth career shutout.

The Panthers had a chance to force overtime in the waning seconds when captain Olli Jokinen recovered a loose puck in the left corner and fed Gary Roberts at the doorstep. But Lehtonen smothered Roberts' one-timer with his pads, preserving his second shutout against Florida.

"I didn't want the same thing to happen twice," said Lehtonen, who yielded a game-tying tally in the final 20 seconds of regulation in Friday's 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay. "I kind of felt the same way as last night. They had a pretty good chance with the pass across, but it turned out to be a bad shot."

"He's a good goalie," Jokinen added. "It seems like he's playing well against us. I guess he was in a little slump but I guess he's back on track tonight. In my mind, he's a top-flight goalie in this league."

Atlanta gave Lehtonen all the support he needed at 13:43 of the opening period when captain Scott Mellanby forced a turnover in Florida's zone and passed to Ilya Kovalchuk, who skated through the slot before snapping a shot between the pads of Alex Auld.

"It was a good forecheck and the puck bounced right on my stick," Kovalchuk said. "I don't care who we play against. I just want to get two points for our team."

It was the 16th goal this season for Kovalchuk, who tied Marian Hossa for the team lead.

Auld turned aside 27 shots for the Panthers, who have lost three in a row.

"We certainly made it exciting," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "I think we saw a great display of goaltending on both sides. Aulb and Kari, they both came up huge."

Lehtonen struggled mightily earlier this month and even lost his starting job to Johan Hedberg for a four-game stretch. But Lehtonen received a huge vote of confidence from Hartley after Saturday's performance.

"We saw the real Kari Lehtonen tonight," Hartley said. "He was sharp off the puck. I think we could have played all night and they would have never scored."

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