Thrashers 1, Penguins 0

Sidney Crosby didn’t like getting checked by Thrashers rookie

Evander Kane.

So it seemed the Pittsburgh Penguins spent most of their energy

antagonizing Kane instead of focusing on the Eastern Conference

standings.

“We can’t dwell on this,” Crosby said. “That’s not going to

help anything. We have an opportunity a lot of other teams don’t

have.”

Bryan Little scored a goal, Johan Hedberg made 33 saves, and the

Atlanta Thrashers ruined the Penguins’ hopes of claiming the

Atlantic Division title by beating them 1-0 on Saturday night.

The Thrashers also prevented Crosby from scoring his 50th goal

of the season. The Penguins captain will have one more game –

Sunday at the New York Islanders – to try to reach the milestone

for the first time. Crosby, in his fifth NHL season, recorded three

shots on goal.

He was more concerned that Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup

champion, finished behind the New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic.

That cost the Penguins a chance for the No. 2 seed in the

conference.

“It’s disappointing,” Crosby said. “We hoped to win and get

second place. We’ll have to play a good game (Sunday) and start

focusing on the playoffs.”

Atlanta, which has been eliminated from postseason contention,

had lost five straight games. Little netted the only goal 9:26 of

the second period.

Pittsburgh had won eight straight over the Thrashers and was

coming off a 4-2 homestand, but the Penguins appeared to lose focus

after Crosby objected to a check into the boards by Kane midway

through the first period. Crosby was penalized for cross-checking

Kane at 10:24.

Kane was behind Pittsburgh’s net over 4 minutes later when

Michael Rupp was given a 10-minute misconduct and Eric Godard was

called for roughing.

Penguins forward Matt Cooke skated off under his own power after

a fight with Kane left him on his back for several minutes early in

the second.

Cooke was the third of four Penguins skaters penalized for

tangling with Kane, who appeared to anger the Penguins for hitting

Crosby into the boards twice in the first period.

Cooke elbowed Kane 1:59 into the second. After both players took

off their gloves near center ice, the 18-year-old Kane landed two

hard right punches to Cooke’s face.

“He challenged me and asked me to fight, and I was not going to

back down,” Kane said. “It’s part of the game.”

Medical personnel brought a stretcher onto the ice as the

31-year-old Cooke laid on his back, seemingly unable to sit up, but

the 12-year NHL veteran soon insisted he was strong enough to skate

off the ice and didn’t return.

“He left the ice saying he was fine and he continues to be that

way now,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He obviously will go

through a battery of (concussion) tests.”

Cooke, whose blindside hit of Marc Savard last month caused a

concussion that likely ended the Boston center’s season, wasn’t

sure when he will be able to return to the ice.

“It’s a little sore,” Cooke said. “We’ll see how it is

(Sunday).”

Atlanta coach John Anderson was disappointed that the Penguins

played with a hard edge that could have injured Kane.

“If they take exception to who gets hit out there, does that

mean you are supposed to start a fight?” Anderson said. “I don’t

get it. Crosby is so great for this game, but when you’re always

around the puck, you’re going to get hit a little bit. Every time

he gets body checked, does that mean somebody is going to get

attacked?

“Cooke came at an 18-year-old. What goes around, comes around.

That’s all I can tell you.”

Kane drew a slashing penalty from Penguins center Tyler Kennedy

after Little scored from the bottom of the left circle.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for Pittsburgh.

“We have to be better,” Crosby said. “We have to make sure

our game is where it needs to be going into the playoffs.”

NOTES: Thrashers C Jim Slater (lower body injury) left in the

first period and didn’t return. … Penguins LW Alexei Ponikarovsky

served the first of a two-game suspension for boarding Islanders

forward Josh Bailey on Thursday. … Pittsburgh LW Chris Kunitz

(shoulder) was unable to play. … Atlanta RW Nik Antropov (lower

body) missed his second straight game. He is tied with Maxim

Afinogenov for the team lead with 24 goals.