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Atlanta 3, Toronto 3
Posted: Friday November 01, 2002 12:14 AM
Atlanta Thrashers
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Toronto Maple Leafs
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TORONTO (Ticker) -- If it takes more shakeups for the Atlanta Thrashers to wake up, coach Curt Fraser doesn't mind.

Backup goaltender Pasi Nurminen made a game-saving stop with 36 seconds left in regulation as the Atlanta Thrashers snapped a season-opening nine-game losing streak with a 3-3 tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Patrik Stefan tied it with 4:34 to play in the third period as the Thrashers ended an 0-8-0-1 skid. Their only other point came in an overtime loss to Florida on October 12.

Fraser made some lineup changes in this one, sitting Milan Hnilicka in favor of Nurminen and benching star winger Ilya Kovakchuk and veteran defenseman Richard Smehlik.

"That was a great effort by our team tonight," Fraser said. "If it means we have to sit some guys out to get better, then that's what we have to do."

Nurmimen made 32 saves in his second appearance of the season. His best came while he was laying on his stomach in the crease with 36 seconds to go in regulation as he reached back with his right skate to kick away Alyn McCauley's shot.

"It's been a long time that I've been playing this sport," said Nurminen, who earned the team's other point in the 5-4 OT loss to Florida. "Of course, you need a little luck."

"We never get a break and maybe finally we turned the tide and things will start going well for us," Fraser added.

Dany Heatley and defenseman Yannick Tremblay scored power-play goals for the Thrashers, who are last in the Eastern Conference in goals allowed (42). They lost their first five road games by a combined score of 23-15.

"We stuck to our game plan for 60 minutes and we clicked on our power plays," said Heatley, whose team was 2-for-6 with the man advantage. "If we keep going like that, we'll be OK."

Atlanta visited Air Canada Centre at the right time. After making it to the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Maple Leafs are just 3-6-2. They got booed off the ice after moving to 1-3-1 on a seven-game homestand.

Toronto seemed in control late in regulation, but Stefan scored the only even-strength goal of the game on a brilliant feed from defenseman Frantisek Kaberle to steal a point for the Thrashers.

"It was a tough way to get one point when you expect to have two, for sure," said Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour, who stopped 17 of 20 shots.

Kaberle set up the equalizer from the top of the right faceoff circle. He drew Belfour out by faking a slap shot and slid a feed under the left hashmark, where Stefan controlled the puck and hit a vacant net.

"It was one of those bang-bang plays," said Belfour, who is 2-3-2 in his first season with Toronto. "I commited myself to the shooter and didn't realize there was a guy backdoor."

Kaberle won the battle with brother Tomas, picking up the only point between the two. In seven sibling meetings, Tomas has two goals and five assists and Frantisek has five assists.

It also was a big night for Leafs enforcer Tie Domi.

Domi moved into eighth place on the all-time list in penalty minutes with 3,045 and scored his third power-play goal of the season to give Toronto a 3-2 lead 6:33 into the third period. He had three power-play goals in 784 games entering the season.

The Leafs scored consecutive goals to move in front. Travis Green banged a rebound past Nurmimen on the power play with 8:54 left in the second period to tie it at 2-2.

Atlanta had scored two straight power-play goals to take a 2-1 lead. Heatley tied it at 1-1 with 2:38 remaining in the first period and Tremblay broke the deadlock at 3:16 of the second.

Heatley, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, also had an assist. He has five goals and four assists in five career games against the Maple Leafs.

Kovalchuk was on his way to Rookie of the Year honors last season before dislocating his shoulder in March. He still is a key member of the young Thrashers, but Fraser didn't hesitate to bench him.

"It was a good night to give him a break," Fraser said of last year's top overall draft pick. "It will make him come back hungry, and we need him playing well. It was important to send a message to the team."