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Crosby downplays Kovalchuk’s finger-pointing

Karen Price

ATLANTA – Atlanta Thrashers winger Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 29th goal of the season in the second period against the Penguins on Friday night to become the NHL’s leading goal scorer at that moment, and his immediate reaction was to turn around and point at Sidney Crosby in the penalty box.

It was a gross display of disrespect that even Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said he didn’t approve of, and something that Crosby said he’d never seen before after the Penguins’ 6-4 loss to the Thrashers at Philips Arena.

But Crosby, whose slashing penalty gave the Thrashers the power play, calmly skated back to the bench after it happened. He didn’t say anything to Kovalchuk, and said he didn’t want to.

“There’s no point,” Crosby said. “It’s not doing anything. I’m not a fighter. I’m not going to go out there and drop the gloves with him. He’s a skilled guy, and he’s a great player. I respect him as a player, but that’s as far as I’ll go.”

Kovalchuk, who was upset at Crosby for slashing him in the first period, evidently was trying to teach Crosby a lesson.

“He takes those stupid penalties all the time,” said Kovalchuk, 22. “He’s an 18 year old kid, and he can’t play like this. He starts yapping about his teammates in the newspapers … I don’t know, he should play really hard on the ice and keep it at that.”

That goal by Kovalchuk gave the Thrashers a 5-0 lead at 18:04 of the second period, but neither he nor any of his teammates would score again until Kovalchuk got the hat trick into an empty net. They needed it, too, because the Penguins came back in the third period to score four goals in just over 13 minutes and fell just short of tying the game before it was over.

John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Michel Ouellet all scored, and Colby Armstrong got his first-ever NHL goal in the third period, but it wasn’t enough. The Penguins (11-20-9) ended their three-game road trip at 1-1-1 and return home to host the Thrashers again tonight.

“The score isn’t a good idea of how the game went,” Crosby said.

The Penguins trailed, 3-0, just 10 minutes into the game after starting goaltender Jocelyn Thibault allowed three goals on nine shots and was replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury.

“The first period, you look at the scoring chances, and they were pretty even,” coach Michel Therrien said. “Their goalie was better than our goalie. Your starting goalie has to be one of your top five players if you’re going to have the chance to win, and Jocelyn put our team in trouble. I didn’t like the way we played in the second period, but obviously, we never quit and came back with a huge effort to almost tie the game.”

LeClair scored just 2:28 from the side of the net to kick off the comeback, and the Penguins got their next three goals on power plays to go 3 for 7 on the night. The Penguins, who were outshot, 22-13, in the first two periods, outshot the Thrashers, 18-9, in the third but Kovalchuk got the empty-net goal with Fleury out for an extra attacker.

After the game, Hartley said he didn’t like Kovalchuk’s display.

“I don’t like this, and I told him,” said the Thrashers coach, who is good friends with Therrien. “They are two great young players. They’re two young roosters in one barn trying to prove who’s best.”

Therrien kept most of his feelings on the matter to himself, but said enough to suggest that tonight’s rematch could be a big game for Crosby, who had one assist last night.

“Sidney’s a guy with a lot of pride,” Therrien said. “He’s going to respond his way.”


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