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Associated Press
10/14/2006 10:42:27 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - Ilya Kovalchuk is a scorer, plain and simple, so he knew his first goal of the season had to be just around the corner.

Still, he sure celebrated it vigorously, leaping off the ice and pounding his right glove against the glass.

Kovalchuk's overtime goal ended his longest drought to start a season, and his Atlanta Thrashers spoiled "Alex Ovechkin Tribute Night" by beating the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Saturday.

"Finally," Kovalchuk said. "It was bad luck or something."

His winner came on a breakaway 3:02 into the extra period. Jim Slater gathered the puck and skated up before passing off to Kovalchuk before they reached centre ice. Kovalchuk moved in on the left side and whipped a high shot past goalie Olie Kolzig.

"He's a good shooter," said Ovechkin, a teammate of Kovalchuk's on the Russian national team.

Kovalchuk - the leading NHL scorer since the start of 2002-03 - didn't have a goal in any of Atlanta's first five games this season. Of course, that didn't prevent the Thrashers from now being 4-1-1 and atop the Southeast Division.

"When you win the games, it's easier if things didn't go your way," said Kovalchuk, who also had two assists Saturday.

Scott Mellanby, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Sim also scored for Atlanta. Kovalchuk assisted on Mellanby's goal 2:10 into the third period, putting the visitors ahead 3-2. But Ovechkin - presented with his Calder Trophy during a five-minute pre-game ceremony - assisted on Dainius Zubrus' tying goal with 5:40 remaining in regulation.

Chris Clark and Jamie Heward had Washington's other goals, and Ovechkin mostly was kept in control. He didn't have a shot in the first period, and only two in the second.

Ovechkin was presented with his award as the league's top rookie in 2005-06 by general manager George McPhee as the player's parents and brother stood nearby. The above-ice video screens showed a highlight reel from last season, with Ovechkin - only the second rookie in NHL history to produce at least 50 goals and 100 points - scoring goals, celebrating them and slamming opponents against the boards.

Taped congratulatory messages from teammates were played between periods, and commemorative coins honouring Ovechkin were handed out. Fans also could pose for photos with his trophy.

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