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Great news for Atlanta pro sports: Thrashers, Hawks ownership group settles six-year skirmish

On the ice, the Atlanta Thrashers are prospering a year or two ahead of schedule thanks in some part to what was clearly a shrewd trade to acquire (and properly use) big defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. The bulky defenseman keeps putting up points while goalie Ondrej Pavelec and the rest of team is playing better hockey than they ever did with their most famous player, Ilya Kovalchuk.

Yet off the ice, the Thrashers and the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks have been mired in an ownership squabble that lasted six years and surely handcuffed the two pro sports franchises as they attempted to court the sometimes-fickle Atlanta market.

While GM Rick Dudley likely won’t get any more money to continue building the Thrashers because of the deal now (or possibly in the future), there’s at least renewed clarity. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Kristi E. Schwartz reports that the Atlanta Spirit finally settled their lawsuit with former partner Steve Belkin, who held a 30 percent stake in the two teams.

Part of the settlement includes seven of the group’s co-owners buying out former partner Steve Belkin’s 30 percent stake in the group. There are no new investors in line to replace Belkin.

Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson will serve as managing partners of the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena.

“I think if you talk to anyone in either organization, they will tell you that this lawsuit has had zero impact. Zero,” Levenson said. “At the end of the day, we had a business partner who we were in a dispute with and we have settled that dispute. It may sound a lot more complicated but that’s really what happened.”

The most important thing – for hockey fans, at least – is if this deal has any impact on the Thrashers remaining in Hotlanta. It sounds like the group is determined to keep the team in Atlanta, even though they acknowledged the fact that the team still faces some challenges when it comes to growing the sport in the area.

Meanwhile, the Thrashers had been targeted as a franchise that could possibly be relocated, with the Canadian cities of Hamilton, Quebec and Winnepeg among the list of possible new homes.

Gearon and Levenson have both said previously they were committed to keeping the team in Atlanta and told reporters Wednesday night that “no other changes are planned.”

While many fans are really hoping for a seventh team in Canada, the Thrashers have an interesting thing going here and look like they’re actually building a team with a clear focus for the first time … ever. They’ve even come up with a clever “Free Thrash” campaign to draw mainstream attention. I’d love to see this team develop a cult following in Atlanta and then maybe – just maybe – become the kind of non-traditional drawing power that the Dallas Stars were until the last few seasons in Texas.

Who knows what kind of impact this lawsuit will have (perhaps “zero” like the group claims), but hopefully the Thrashers will get a chance to keep this great momentum going.

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.