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Christensen scores in shootout as Thrashers comeback to beat Wild 3-2

ATLANTA - Minnesota dominated Atlanta for almost 55 minutes.

It was the last few minutes that mattered most. After losing the lead late in regulation, an unlucky bounce in the shootout gave the Wild their first loss to the Thrashers. Erik Christensen scored the only goal in the shootout and the Thrashers beat the Wild 3-2 on Friday night to end an eight-game losing streak.

"It's been a long time coming and we've battled hard," Thrashers coach Don Waddell said.

Christensen's shot bounced off the post and hit goalie Nicklas Backstrom's back before falling over the line.

A strong performance by Thrashers veteran goalie Johan Hedberg, who stopped 37 shots, forced Minnesota to settle for one point. The Wild led 1-0 with less than six minutes left in regulation.

Colby Armstrong and Ilya Kovalchuk each scored late in regulation as the Thrashers overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1. Kovalchuk scored with only 44.9 seconds left to force the overtime.

"They scored in the last minute," Minnesota's Brian Rolston said. "It's going to happen, but it's still tough to take."

Minnesota began the night tied with Calgary for first and only one point ahead of Colorado in the tight Northwest.

"It's going to be a battle to the end," said Rolston, who had a goal and an assist in regulation but was stopped in the shootout.

"It's probably going to be won by one point or two points. It's going to go down to the last weekend."

Brent Burns and Rolston scored for Minnesota, which suffered its first loss in seven games against Atlanta. The Wild made their first visit to Atlanta since March 9, 2003.

Hedberg denied Mikko Koivu, Burns and Rolston in the shootout for the Thrashers' first win since Feb. 15 at New Jersey.

"Finally, it's a huge monkey off our back and hopefully it will take some pressure off our guys," Waddell said. "It gives us an opportunity to put some wins together."

Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said Backstrom and the Wild played well in the third period - even while allowing two goals.

"I thought we played our best team period in a long time," Lemaire said. "It was easy to coach because everyone was doing the best he could."

Burns scored a power-play goal with 2:22 left in the third period to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead, but Kovalchuk answered with his goal after Waddell pulled Hedberg.

"We had pretty good control in the first two periods," Backstrom said. "We knew it would be a tough third period. They played well. They came back. They believed in what they were doing."

Rolston scored the power-play goal on a wrister from the right circle only 40 seconds into the two-man advantage 10:47 into the period for the 1-0 lead.

The Wild still led 1-0 with only 5:30 left in the third period when Backstrom stopped a power-play shot by Kovalchuk, but Armstrong scored on the putback. The goal was Armstrong's first since he was traded on Feb. 26 to Atlanta in the deal that sent Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh. Christensen also was acquired in that deal.

Minnesota was 0-for-15 on the power play in its last three games. That slump ended in the first period when penalties by Garnet Exelby and Jim Slater set up Rolston's goal on a five-on-three advantage.

The Thrashers couldn't take advantage of three power plays early in the second period, including a two-man advantage that lasted 1:28.

The Thrashers were unable to score even with a brief five-on-two advantage, as Minnesota's Eric Belanger needed about 10 seconds to pick himself up after a shot by Kovalchuk hit him in his midsection.

Notes: Minnesota fell to 10-4-1 on the second day of playing back-to-back days. The Wild lost 3-2 at Carolina on Thursday. ... Minnesota is 5-1-0 with a tie in seven games against Atlanta. ... The Thrashers were without C Todd White (elbow, shoulder). Defencemen Alexei Zhitnik and Mark Popovic were held out, but not listed as injured. ... Attendance was 18,709 for Atlanta's seventh sellout.


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