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
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
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
``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
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
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.