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Lightning battle for first against Thrashers

by Brian Compton /
LIGHTNING (20-10-5) at THRASHERS (19-13-5)
Last 10:
Tampa Bay 6-2-2; Atlanta 5-3-2
Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals. Tampa Bay enters with a 3-0 record against Atlanta following a 2-1 shootout victory on Dec. 15 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Big Story: Lighting superstar Steven Stamkos recently told that the club's goal entering the holiday break was to be atop the Southeast Division. The Lightning head to Atlanta on Sunday in a first-place tie with the Washington Capitals at 45 points apiece, although Tampa Bay has two games in hand. The Lightning entered the break with a win thanks to an 11-round shootout victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Team Scope:
Lightning: Ryan Malone, who also scored against the Islanders on Wednesday night, ended the shootout in Manhattan when he beat Henrik Lundqvist in the 11th round. Malone's wrister came after Dan Ellis denied eight consecutive New York shooters in the breakaway competition.
"It's a huge win for us," said Ellis, who finished with 34 saves. "We were really pushing for first place in our division and New York really played a great game, but we battled on, battled some more and we were able to come away with a big win."
Thrashers: Atlanta enters Sunday's action hoping to avoid a three-game losing streak. After suffering a 4-2 defeat on home ice against St. Louis last Tuesday, the Thrashers dropped a 4-1 decision at Boston on Thursday night.
"I think they were more hungry for the two points," goalie Ondrej Pavelec told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Who's Hot: Martin St. Louis had a goal and an assist for the Lightning on Thursday night, giving him three multi-point efforts in his last four contests. … Dustin Byfuglien had the lone goal for Atlanta against the Bruins. It was his 13th goal and career-high 37th point of the season.
Injury Report: Lightning forward Steve Downie is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, while goalie Mike Smith is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with a sprained knee. … Thrashers forward Nik Antropov (hip) and defenseman Zach Bogosian (undisclosed) are day-to-day.
Stat Pack: With Thursday's win, Tampa Bay is now 6-1-1 against Atlantic Division teams this season. … Atlanta has allowed two shorthanded goals in as many games.
Puck Drop: "With the crazy schedule we had, 15 of 21 games on the road, we wanted to survive above .500. We did more than that. Our short-term goal was to be first in our division by Christmas. It just shows how much character the guys have." -- Lightning coach Guy Boucher

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