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Thrashers fans score: NHL lifts Preds, Canes blackouts on Center Ice in Georgia

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Atlanta Thrashers fans may be locked out of watching NHL hockey at Philips Arena, but they are no longer blacked out from watching games of two nearby teams on the league’s Center Ice package.

The NHL lifted the blackout of previously untelevised Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes games within the state of Georgia. Those games will be available on the league’s pay television package.

“We were not aware that some Nashville and Carolina games were blacked out in Atlanta,” NHL Vice President of Communications John Dellapina wrote in e-mail on Wednesday. “We have spoken to both clubs and now, all games of both teams should be available on Center Ice throughout Georgia.”

In a blink of an eye, Atlanta became the United States’ largest television market without a professional hockey team over the summer after the Thrashers bolted town. The team just left for Winnipeg just five months after the legal “cloud” to the club's title was lifted when a lawsuit between factions of Atlanta’s owners was settled.

The Preds and Canes quickly swooped in to fill the TV void, with each team agreeing to broadcast 41 games in the Thrashers’ old market of nearly 2.3 million television households.

Both franchises have made overtures to win over some die-hard Thrashers fans. The Predators have offered season ticket packages to hockey crazed Atlanta fans from the Peach State­­, while the Hurricanes housed a preseason game in nearby Charlotte and may be looking to schedule another one in the Atlanta area over the next few years.

But the 50-50 split of the ninth largest TV market in the U.S. quickly proved problematic as under league and team rules, Atlanta became the “home market” for both clubs unless they agreed to waive the blackout.

As a result, the season openers for both the Predators and the Hurricanes along with a handful of other games that were not scheduled for broadcast in Georgia were blacked out by the league, except on DirecTV’s “Center Ice” feed.

Fans that were already jilted by a league that broke its so-called “covenant with fans” when the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg on the quick, had yet another reason to be mad at the fourth-largest North American sports league. That is, until now.

Jets finally take off: The fourth time was the charm for the team formerly known as the Thrashers. The Winnipeg Jets shook off the moniker of being the final NHL team without a point after defeating a depleted Pittsburgh Penguins team, 2-1, on Monday night at the MTS Centre.

Ondrej Pavelec had 28 stops in the contest en route to picking up his first win over the Pens in eight tries.

Meanwhile, some other Jets continue to struggle in the Manitoba prairies. Evander Kane has been short-shifted by Winnipeg coach Claude Noel over the team’s first three games, before missing Monday’s game with a lower body injury. Kane has yet to notch a point for the last-place Jets.

Noel also curiously has not paired up bulky defenseman Dustin Byfuglien with his former linemate Tobias Enstrom for three of his team’s first four games and much like Zach Bogosian before him, Byfuglien has struggled without Enstrom. Byfuglien is tied with Bryan Little with a minus-four rating for worst on the club.

Jim Slater and newcomer Kyle Wellwood lead the team with a pair of goals and 2010 first round pick Alexander Burmistrov has a franchise-best three assists for the 1-3-0 Jets, who face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

The offensively-challenged Jets enter that one tied for last in the league with seven goals and have yet to record a power play goal this season.

For updates whenever a new article is posted, please follow me either on Twitter @PJFoleyExaminer or Google Buzz.

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