TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The future is looking brighter for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Kari Lehtonen made 29 saves, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 41st goal of the season during a two-goal third period as the Thrashers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 Saturday night.
``If he wasn't the first star, I don't know who was,'' Atlanta forward Shawn McEachern said of Lehtonen. ``He was great tonight and that's a big guy to have for next year. He's a great goalie. I can't wait until next year to see him play.''
Lehtonen has won all four career starts for Atlanta since being recalled from the minors March 12. He equaled Pasi Nurminen's team record of four straight wins set Nov. 16-23, 2003.
``Everything in these four games went so perfect,'' Lehtonen said. ``A few times I was lucky when they got chances to score, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.''
It was the regular-season finale for both teams. The Lightning enter the playoffs against the New York Islanders as the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has not reached the postseason in its five NHL seasons.
``We know we've got the Islanders,'' Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina said. ``We have four days to prepare for Thursday night.''
Kovalchuk tied it at 1 with a breakaway goal 4:11 into the third. He is tied with Columbus' Rick Nash for the NHL league lead in goals. Jarome Iginla of Calgary has 40 and will finish the regular season Sunday at Anaheim.
McEachern put the Thrashers ahead 2-1 with his first goal in 10 games, scored from the left circle at 7:04 of the third.
The Thrashers, who finished with a franchise-best 78 points, won seven times this season when trailing after two periods (7-29-3-2).
Martin St. Louis picked up his NHL-leading 94th point on a second-period goal for the Lightning. He is seven points ahead of Colorado's Joe Sakic in the scoring race.
``Sakic's got a game (Sunday) ... we'll see what happens,'' St. Louis said. ``Am I going to look at the game? I don't know. But I'll be pleased if they don't score seven goals.''
St. Louis put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0 from the right circle during a three-on-one 4:42 into the period. The goal came one second after Tampa Bay killed off a penalty.
While short-handed, the Lightning had several scoring chances, including a penalty shot.
Lehtonen stopped Vincent Lecavalier's breakaway when the Tampa Bay forward was hooked on the play at 2:55. On the penalty shot, Lecavalier sent a backhander wide.
Cory Stillman also had a breakaway, but lost control of the puck.
Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin had 21 saves.
``We played hard, we stayed healthy, and now the good stuff happens,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said.
|Martin St. Louis (38) ASST: Brad Richards (53), Brad Lukowich (14)|
1 - 0 TBL
|Ilya Kovalchuk (41) ASST: Patrik Stefan (25), Ivan Majesky (7)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Shawn McEachern (17) ASST: Kyle Rossiter (1), Patrik Stefan (26)|
2 - 1 ATL
|Frantisek Kaberle Hi-sticking|
|Cory Stillman Hooking|
|Pavel Kubina Tripping|
|Freddy Modin Tripping|
|Andre Roy Roughing|
|Patrik Stefan Tripping|
|Shawn McEachern Cross checking|
|Ruslan Fedotenko Hooking|