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Thrashers knocked out of playoff contention
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ATLANTA — For Martin Brodeur, win No. 600 was no big deal, significant only because it's a nice, round number.

Fittingly, he reached the milestone with one more zero of his own, shutting out the Atlanta Thrashers to lead the New Jersey Devils to a 3-0 win Tuesday night in Ilya Kovalchuk's return to Atlanta.

"It was as nice as No. 599," Brodeur said. "A win's a win. It's definitely a nice number."

The shutout was Brodeur's league-leading ninth of the season and the 110th of his career. Brodeur and the Devils beat Carolina 4-0 on Saturday.

"The big one was 552," Brodeur said of passing Patrick Roy's NHL record for wins. "Now everything is gravy."

The Devils moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division and second place in the Eastern Conference.

Kovalchuk, the former Thrashers captain who was traded to the Devils two months ago, didn't score but returned to see the Thrashers eliminated from playoff contention for the ninth time in their 10-year history. He was booed throughout the night. He said he expected the boos.

"It's nice. I was able to see all my friends," Kovalchuk said. "It was definitely fun. It was a different experience."

Dean McAmmond, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac scored and Brodeur stopped 19 shots. Brodeur had good help from New Jersey's defense, as the Thrashers managed only two shots on goal in the third period.

"We really closed the door in the third," Brodeur said.

The 37-year-old Brodeur improved to 10-2-2 against Atlanta.

"You hate to be shut out in a game like this," said Atlanta's Ron Hainsey. "You hate to come up with nothing. But he is one of the top two or three goalies of all time. It hurts."

The Thrashers had only two shots on goal in the third period while taking their third straight loss.

"We just played hard but we didn't have any savvy around the net," Thrashers coach John Anderson said.

McAmmond scored on a pass from Dainius Zubrus in the first period, and the Devils padded the lead with goals in the opening minute of each of the next two periods. Parise pushed the puck past Johan Hedberg 51 seconds into the second period, and Zajac scored 10 seconds into the third.

Hedberg stopped 24 shots but couldn't prevent the Thrashers from seeing their fading playoff hopes disappear.

"We knew what our position was going into this game," Hedberg said. "It's a very disappointing feeling knowing you are not going into the postseason."

Kovalchuk made his first return to Atlanta since a Feb. 4 trade that sent forward Niclas Bergfors and defenseman Johnny Oduya to the Thrashers. Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said he made the trade after Kovalchuk turned down contract extension offers of 12 years for $101 million and seven years for $70 million.

Kovalchuk will become a free agent after this season.

The Thrashers' career scoring leader was booed when he came on the ice for his first shift.

"He was a little nervous. I could sense that," said New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire of Kovalchuk. "That's why I didn't start him. It would not have been good for him."

There were more boos when Kovalchuk was featured on the video board during a first-period break and when he handled the puck. He didn't have a shot on goal.

"Half the fans were booing, half were cheering," Kovalchuk said. "That's nice. It happens all the time.

"I move on and I'm excited to be part of this organization and I'm looking forward to the playoffs."

Before the game, each team had accumulated 25 points since the trade as Atlanta remained in the race without Kovalchuk longer than many anticipated.

NOTES: Each team was 0 for 2 on the power play. ... Fans raised a sign in the third period which read "Kovalchump." The sign was removed. ... The Thrashers announced two team awards: C Marty Reasoner was voted best team player by teammates. Hedberg accumulated the most points from being named a first, second, or third star after games. ... Atlanta F Colby Armstrong served the second game of his two-game suspension for using his elbow to deliver a blow against Washington's Mathieu Perreault.
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