ATLANTA – Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk will miss at least two games but apparently avoided serious injury to his right knee when he was hurt in Wednesday night’s game against Pittsburgh.
Thrashers coach and GM Don Waddell said Kovalchuk would have a “precautionary” MRI exam on the knee Thursday afternoon.
“He was much better today but he’s not going to play this weekend,” Waddell said. “We’re not anticipating anything more than that. I would expect him to be back next week at some point.”
Waddell said Kovalchuk had no substantial swelling in the knee and was walking without a limp.
The news was good, but the Thrashers must adjust to the loss of their top scorer for at least two games while they fight for a playoff spot. Waddell said Kovalchuk would miss Friday’s home game against Buffalo and Saturday’s game at Washington.
“We’re going to need other guys to chip in, there’s no doubt about it,” Waddell said. “But we’ve said all along we can’t rely on one or two guys to score all your goals.”
Atlanta had good balance as four players – Kovalchuk, Bobby Holik, Eric Perrin and Jim Slater – scored against the Penguins.
The Thrashers were two points behind first-place Carolina in the Southeast Division before the Hurricanes played Toronto on Thursday night.
Kovalchuk scored his 38th goal in Wednesday night’s 4-1 win over Pittsburgh before he was injured in a knee-on-knee hit from Penguins left winger Jarkko Ruutu 3:21 into the second period. The hit left Kovalchuk lying on the ice in obvious pain before he limped to the locker room.
Atlanta’s Steve McCarthy retaliated by punching Ruutu while pinning the forward against the boards, earning a minor penalty for instigating, a major for fighting and a misconduct. Ruutu drew a pair of majors for kneeing and fighting, and was ejected.
Ruutu said he was only trying to make a routine check on Kovalchuk, who tried to dodge the hit at the last second but left his leg in Ruutu’s path.
“I meant to finish my check,” Ruutu said. “He ducked away and I barely hit him. I didn’t change direction. I just went for a hit.”
Waddell stopped short of saying the hit by Ruutu was a cheap shot, though he said Ruutu “came after him pretty hard.”
“The league looks at all these situations,” Waddell said. “I’m sure they’ve looked at it 100 times already. We’ll leave that to the league. The referees made the right call, I thought, on the ice. From here, it’s out of our hands.”