After clinching their first Southeast crown, the Thrashers host the Lightning on Saturday night at Philips Arena in the final regular-season game for both clubs.
Atlanta (42-28-11) secured the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 4-1 win over Carolina on Friday night, while Tampa Bay lost 7-2 to Florida. The Lightning needed to win their final two games to win the Southeast and have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"We wanted to win the division and put ourselves to have home advantage in the first round," said Thrashers backup goaltender Johan Hedberg, who made 32 saves to earn the victory. "Tonight we had a lot of determination."
Ilya Kovalchuk and Pascal Dupuis scored in the first period and Eric Belanger had a goal and assist in the third for Atlanta, which won for the third time in four games.
"That's why we're all here," said Kovalchuk. "The regular season is good, but I personally have never played in the playoffs. I was waiting for that, and finally we're there."
Marian Hossa, who tallied his team-high 43rd goal, needs two points to reach 100 for the first time in his nine-year career. He leads the Thrashers with four goals and seven points over seven games in the season series against the Lightning.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in net for Atlanta. He's 1-0-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average at home versus the Lightning.
Tampa Bay (44-33-4) still could meet Atlanta in the opening round. The Lightning have 92 points, leaving them two behind the sixth-place New York Rangers. If Tampa Bay wins and the Rangers lose in regulation to Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Lightning would earn the sixth seed thanks to having more victories than New York.
Goaltenders Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis were both ineffective for the Lightning against the Panthers. Holmqvist stopped only eight of 12 shots before being replaced late in the first period. Denis faced 20 shots and made 17 saves.
Denis is 3-1-0 with a 1.70 GAA when facing Atlanta, compared with Holmqvist's 2-1-0 record and 2.32 GAA.
Jason Ward and Nick Tarnasky scored in the third period to the help the Lightning avoid being shut out.
"I got over this game after the first 6 or 7 minutes," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "Write what you want to write. I know what this team is. And I know what this team is going to do when the playoffs start."
Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis each failed to get on the scoresheet for Tampa Bay. Lecavalier, the league goal-scoring leader with 52, has five against the Thrashers this season while St. Louis has a team-high nine assists and 13 points versus Atlanta.
St. Louis had career highs of four assists and five points in an 8-0 rout of Atlanta on Dec. 7.
|Apr 07 '07||TBL 2 at ATL 3 - SO||J. Sim|
|Feb 22 '07||TBL 5 at ATL 4 - OT||M. St. Louis|
|Dec 26 '06||TBL 1 at ATL 2||J. Slater|
|Dec 07 '06||ATL 0 at TBL 8||V. Lecavalier|
|Nov 24 '06||ATL 2 at TBL 3 - OT||M. St. Louis|
|Nov 11 '06||ATL 3 at TBL 5||V. Lecavalier|
|Oct 09 '06||ATL 1 at TBL 0||V. Kozlov|
|Oct 05 '06||TBL 3 at ATL 2 - SO||V. Lecavalier|