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Metropolit scores game winner as Thrashers beat Panthers 3-1

Glen Metropolit scored the tiebreaking goal in the second period and Kari Lehtonen had 27 saves to lead the Thrashers to a 3-1 victory over Florida on Saturday night.

J.P. Vigier and Ilya Kovalchuk added goals for Atlanta, which won its fourth straight game and fifth in a row against Florida. The Thrashers are 5-0-1 in their last six games.

Olli Jokinen scored for Florida and Ed Belfour stopped 23 shots. The Panthers have lost a season-high six straight games, their longest winless streak since going 0-6-1 from March 19-29, 2003.

"They've got our number, there's no question about that," Florida's Chris Gratton said following a closed-door team meeting after the game that lasted 25 minutes. "It's dead in this dressing room and we're playing dead on the ice. We need a spark somehow. The atmosphere is flat right now and guys are walking on eggshells and playing tight."

The Thrashers took a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 4:01 of the second. Bobby Holik's shot from the right circle went behind the net and drifted back in front of the crease. Metropolit came from behind and slid the puck past Belfour.

"The play was behind the net," Metropolit said. "I was giving support out in front and the puck came loose. It kicked out and I was right there."

Kovalchuk scored an empty-net goal at 19:25 of the third.

"There was a stretch of seven or eight minutes where it seemed like we didn't give up any shots," Lehtonen said. "We hope we can keep this up. We have a lot of guys playing very well right now."

Florida tied it 1-1 on Jokinen's goal at 17:11 of the first. Ville Peltonen's shot from the left circle hit Jokinen in front, who was pushed into Lehtonen. The puck went off Jokinen and into the net. It was Florida's first goal in 218 minutes, 42 seconds, a franchise record.

"Part of our problem is we lose so many battles and make so many mistakes and penalties," Jokinen said. "We can't point any fingers. We have to look at ourselves first before your teammates."

Atlanta took a 1-0 lead 6:26 into the first. Vigier's shot from the right circle was blocked by Belfour. The puck came loose in front of the crease, and Vigier picked up the rebound and poked it across the goal line.

Florida's Gregory Campbell was awarded a penalty shot at 1:56 of the third period after being pulled down from behind by Steve McCarthy on a breakaway. His shot was blocked by Lehtonen.

"The difference in the game was penalties," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "They had one goal on the power play and we didn't have any. That's the difference in the hockey game."

Notes: Florida's Joe Nieuwendyk sat out with back spasms. ... Thrashers C Jim Slater missed the game with an apparent foot injury.



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