ATLANTA - The Thrashers snapped a five-game losing streak, but Atlanta's 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night might have been costly as leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk left the game with an apparent knee injury.
Kovalchuk scored his 38th goal but was forced out of the game for good in the second period. He was injured in a knee-on-knee hit from Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu and made a brief return later in the frame for one shift, but didn't come back again.
Kovalchuk was leveled by Ruutu 3:21 into the second period. The collision left Kovalchuk lying on the ice in obvious pain in front of Atlanta's bench before he limped to the locker room.
Atlanta's Steve McCarthy immediately followed the collision by crashing into Ruutu and then punching the left winger while having him pinned against the boards in front of the Thrashers' bench.
McCarthy earned a minor penalty for instigating, a major for fighting and a misconduct. Ruutu drew a pair of majors for kneeing and fighting and was ejected.
As they did during Sunday's All-Star game in Atlanta, Thrashers fans chanted 'Kovy! Kovy!' when Kovalchuk returned to the bench late in the second period. He took the ice for a shift with about 5 minutes left and appeared to favor the knee. He headed straight to the locker room after he left the ice.
The Thrashers said only that Kovalchuk had a leg injury and wouldn't return.
The Penguins fell to 2-2-1 since losing captain Sidney Crosby to a high ankle sprain. Pittsburgh won 4-2 at New Jersey on Tuesday night in its first game following the All-Star break.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 29 shots, losing his shutout bid when Ryan Whitney scored for Pittsburgh with 8:42 left.
Kovalchuk and Bobby Holik scored first-period goals, and Eric Perrin and Jim Slater added tallies in the third to give Atlanta a 4-0 lead.