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Kovalchuk helps Thrashers top Lightning in season finale

ATLANTA (AP) -- Ilya Kovalchuk waited until the day after last

year's season finale to call for an improved roster.

Now that he's three months into his role as team captain,

Kovalchuk spoke out immediately after the Atlanta Thrashers

closed another season by missing the playoffs.

"I don't want to compete just for the playoffs," he said. "I

want to compete for the (Stanley) Cup. I know for sure we need

some more players."

Kovalchuk scored his 43rd goal, and the Thrashers snapped a

three-game skid with a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning

on Saturday night in final game of the season for both teams.

Colby Armstrong scored twice, Eric Perrin, Ron Hainsey and Colin

Stuart added goals. Kari Lehtonen made 24 saves.

Tampa Bay rookie Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 overall draft pick,

scored his 23rd goal early in the third period, and Matt

Pettinger added a goal. The Lightning closed the season with a

nine-game winless streak, dropping the last four in regulation.

Alternate captain Martin St. Louis didn't mask his

disappointment in being associated with the NHL's second-worst

team, just a one spot improvement after finishing at the bottom

of the league standings last year.

"That's the only positive I take from this year, that we have

some young guys to build some depth," St. Louis said. "We rushed

some guys, and I think that will help us in the long run. It's

hard. There's nothing like being in the playoffs."

The Thrashers won 12 of their final 18 game, including nine of

13 at home, under first-year coach John Anderson.

"I feel like we can play with any team," Anderson said. "The

great thing about our team is we were very young."

Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet, who took charge after

Barry Melrose was fired after just 16 games, went 19-33-14.

"Monday, we're going to roll up our sleeves and start working

toward next year," Tocchet said. "Who's kidding who? There's no

secret. It is what it is."

Added alternate captain Jeff Halpern, who assisted on

Pettinger's goal, "Sixty-six points is not enough. We have to be

better individually."

Kovalchuk, whose wrister on a breakaway gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead

midway through the second period, scored the 32nd goal in his

last 42 games.

"It's easy to win when you're out of the playoffs," he said.

"You can loosen up."

After seven years with the Thrashers, Kovalchuk has advanced to

the playoffs just once, in 2007, when he shared scoring

responsibilities with Marian Hossa and Keith Tkachuk. As

frustrated as Atlanta's fans could be, Kovalchuk insists his

will to win is even greater.

"They appreciated what we did tonight," he said. "But I don't

think they appreciated what we did all season long."

Tampa Bay's Mike McKenna and Karri Ramo combined to make 29

saves, but McKenna was on the wrong end of two redirected scores

by Armstrong.

"I got a couple of really ugly ones," Armstrong said of his 21st

and 22nd goals. "Our line played pretty good tonight. We got to

the net and made some things happen."



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