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Lightning battle Thrashers for Southeast positioning

by Brian Hunter /

LIGHTNING (8-5-7) at THRASHERS (10-7-2)

Last 10: Tampa Bay 4-2-4; Atlanta 6-3-1

Season series: Second meeting of the season between these Southeast Division rivals. They started the season facing each other at Philips Arena on Oct. 3, with Ilya Kovalchuk and Rich Peverley each scoring a pair of goals in a 6-3 Atlanta victory. Martin St. Louis had two goals for Tampa Bay. Three of the four games remaining this season after Sunday will be played at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Big Story: These teams spent much of the previous two seasons trying to stay out of the basement of both the division and the Eastern Conference, but each seems to have turned a corner through the first quarter of the 2009-10 campaign. The Lightning currently hold down second place in the Southeast and are in a four-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, while the Thrashers sit just one point back and could leapfrog Tampa in both races with a win Sunday. Each team is playing the second of a back-to-back situation.

Team Scope:

Lightning: A power-play goal by Martin St. Louis late in the first period was all the offense Tampa Bay could manage Saturday night in Carolina. The Lightning lost 3-1 to the Hurricanes, who hadn't won a regulation game since Oct. 9.

"I am a little disappointed in some of the top guys," coach Rick Tocchet said. "I think Martin St. Louis played well, but some of our other top guys just didn't show up tonight."

Thrashers: Shorthanded goals by Chris Thorburn and Maxim Afinogenov in the third period weren't enough to rally Atlanta, which fell 3-2 to Pittsburgh on home ice Saturday night. Each goalie stopped 31 shots, with the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury getting the better of Thrashers backup Johan Hedberg.

"We could have been down 4-0 in the second period but Moose (Hedberg) kept us in it. We had a lot of chances but Fleury stood up and made some big saves," Thorburn said.

Who's Hot: St. Louis has points in three straight games after his goal Saturday. Ryan Malone was held scoreless for the Lightning, ending a five-game points streak in which he had four goals and five assists.

Afinogenov has been a player possessed of late, scoring goals in his last five games for the Thrashers. He has six goals and nine points during that span and has 20 points in 19 games this season. That matches his output in 48 games last season for the Sabres.

Injury Report: Tampa Bay defenseman Mattias Ohlund (foot) has missed consecutive games.

Stat Pack: Kovalchuk found his name on the scoresheet numerous times against Pittsburgh, but not for the usual reasons. He was held without a point after registering four goals and seven assists in his first four games back from a broken foot, but the feisty Atlanta forward picked up 19 penalty minutes thanks to a third-period fight with Matt Cooke that involved a double-minor for instigating while wearing a face shield and a 10-minute misconduct.

Puck Drop: This matchup hasn't always produced the most meaningful battles in the past, but that appears ready to change. Both teams have a lot at stake Sunday, not the least of which is trying to get back on the winning track.

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