Kovalchuk finished with a goal and three assists for the Thrashers, who earned a needed win and pulled within three points of the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes. Vyacheslav Kozlov, Mark Recchi and Bobby Holik also scored for Atlanta.
Ray Whitney, Eric Staal and Erik Cole each had a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes, who continued their December slide into 2008.
The Thrashers had lost three of four coming in, including Monday at Boston in which they led 2-0 before allowing five unanswered goals. They flirted with another frustrating loss after blowing a 3-1 lead entering the final period as well as a 4-3 lead late in the third. But Kovalchuk — as he had all night — came up with two key plays to give Atlanta the win. First he stole the puck from Glen Wesley along the boards from behind and drew a hooking penalty to give the Thrashers the man advantage. Then he skated in on the right side before sending a perfect pass to Hossa, who was cutting in on the left and easily beat Cam Ward from just outside the crease for the win.
It was another frustrating performance for the Hurricanes, who lost nine of 15 games in December and saw their once-comfortable division lead shrink. They put together a fierce third-period rally, getting a score from Staal off a rebound and a putaway from Andrew Ladd off a feed from Scott Walker less than 90 seconds later to tie it at 3 at the 9:29 mark.
Then, after Holik scored off a feed from Kovalchuk for the 4-3 lead, Cole managed to tie it by slipping a loose rebound past Johan Hedberg at 15:29 of the third.
The Hurricanes outshot the Thrashers 19-3 in that period and 36-14 for the game, but Hossa’s goal improved Atlanta to 11-2 in one-goal games.Notes: Kovalchuk pushed his point streak to four games and has scored at least two points in 16 of his last 33 games. ... Recchi has 12 points in 12 games with Atlanta since being claimed off waivers on Dec. 8. He was a midseason acquisition for Carolina in the 2005-06 season, helping the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup. ... Hurricanes D Casey Borer — called up Tuesday after Bret Hedican went on injured reserve with a knee injury — played in his first NHL game. ... Rod Brind’Amour’s assist on Ladd’s goal gave him 1,099 points for his career.