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Atlanta Thrashers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

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GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (32-37-8-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (46-21-8-6).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. All they want now is to sustain their momentum.

The Lightning will look to enter the postseason on a high note as they host the Atlanta Thrashers in the regular season finale for both teams.

Tampa Bay beat Florida 4-3 on Thursday to clinch the top spot in the conference. League scoring leader Martin St. Louis, who has 37 goals and 56 assists, had two goals, including the game-winner, for the Lightning.

"No one thought we would be where we're at," defenseman Brad Lukowich said. "We basically closed the door and started leaning on each other, pushing each other to go harder. We knew we had something special."

The Lightning have won back-to-back Southeast Division championships, following four straight seasons with at least 50 losses.

"Good for them," coach John Tortorella said. "You win your division, and now you win your conference. Two or three years ago, who would have thought that? The credit goes to those guys in the locker room."

The Lightning have earned a point in their last five games (4-0-0-1), averaging 5.2 goals over that span.

"When you get to secure home-ice, it's big," St. Louis said. "But at the same time, if you don't do anything with it, it means nothing."

Tampa Bay will face either the New York Islanders or Montreal Canadiens in next week's opening round of the playoffs.

The Thrashers lost 3-2 to the league-worst Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday for their second straight defeat and third in four games.

Atlanta tried all night to get Ilya Kovalchuk a goal, and finally succeeded with 5.6 seconds left. Kovalchuk, who had gone five games without scoring, has 40 goals this season, tying him with Columbus' Rick Nash and Calgary's Jarome Iginla for the league lead.

Kovalchuk, who also has 46 assists, ranks third in the league in points behind St. Louis and Colorado's Joe Sakic (87).

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 76 points, 2nd place, 30 PB, Southeast Division. Lightning - 106 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 40 goals, 46 assists and 86 points; Francis Lessard, 181 PIM. Lightning - St. Louis, 37 goals, 56 assists and 93 points; Chris Dingman, 140 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through April 1): Thrashers - Power play: 15 percent (60 for 401), 22nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.9 percent (327 for 385), 10th. Lightning - Power play: 16.4 percent (55 for 336), 14th. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (231 for 273), 12th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Pasi Nurminen (25-30-7, 3 SO, 2.78 GAA); Kari Lehtonen (3-0-0, 1, 1.33). Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (28-18-7, 3, 2.33); John Grahame (18-9-1, 1, 2.06).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 3-2.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 25; Lightning, 4-2. At Atlanta, Vincent Lecavalier had two goals for the Lightning, who scored three times in the final period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 14-20-4-2 on the road; Lightning - 24-9-4-3 at home.


Associated Press
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