Atlanta (33-40-8) won the Southeast Division last season to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, but was swept in the quarterfinals by the New York Rangers and then lost six in a row to start 2007-08.
That resulted in longtime coach Bob Hartley's firing, and general manager Don Waddell was unable to get the Thrashers back in the playoffs after taking over behind the bench. They also conceded any hopes of a postseason run after dealing high-scoring forward Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh at the February trading deadline.
"I just want to forget (the season) like a bad dream," Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk said earlier this week.
Kovalchuk, though, will get one last chance to break his own franchise record for goals in a season. He scored twice in Atlanta's 2-0 win over Tampa Bay on Monday to give him 52 this season, a distant second in the NHL to Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who has 65.
The top overall pick in 2003, Kovalchuk also scored 52 goals in 2005-06. He has eight in seven games against the Lightning (31-41-9) this season.
"He carried this hockey club for a couple of months early in the season. He's a goal scorer. If he gets opportunities, he's going to bury them," Waddell said.
Kovalchuk failed to score in the Thrashers' 3-2 loss to Florida on Tuesday as Jordan Lavallee had a goal and an assist in his second NHL game.
"It's a much easier game here," said Lavallee, who was returned to Chicago of the AHL on Wednesday.
The Lightning opened the season with three straight victories for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004, but followed with two six-game losing streaks before a season-high seven-game slide from Dec. 22-Jan. 5.
Tampa Bay comes in having dropped three in a row overall and five straight on the road after a 4-1 loss to Washington on Thursday. Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning's leading scorer with 40 goals and 92 points, will miss this game after falling awkwardly on his shoulder following a hit from the Capitals' Matt Cooke.
Lightning coach John Tortorella was irate over Cooke not being penalized.
"It's an absolute cheap shot," Tortorella said. "We have stick fouls - stick foul after stick foul - and then I see that. It's a guy in a vulnerable position. It's an interference if the puck isn't anywhere near him, and that isn't called. It's an absolute cheap shot."
Tampa Bay is 0-3-2 in its last five games against the Thrashers, and has only one win in its last six visits to Atlanta.
|Apr 05 '08||TBL 1 at ATL 4||C. Armstrong|
|Mar 31 '08||ATL 2 at TBL 0||I. Kovalchuk|
|Feb 09 '08||TBL 1 at ATL 2 - OT||A. Zhitnik|
|Dec 18 '07||TBL 2 at ATL 6||V. Kozlov|
|Nov 19 '07||TBL 3 at ATL 4 - OT||T. White|
|Nov 03 '07||ATL 6 at TBL 4||P. Dupuis|
|Oct 20 '07||ATL 2 at TBL 6||V. Lecavalier|
|Oct 06 '07||ATL 2 at TBL 5||B. Richards|