It took a coaching change to motivate the Atlanta Thrashers, and a long losing streak to spark the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having premiere scorers hasn't hurt either team's resurgence, either.
Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers look to reach .500 for the first time this season, while the Vincent Lecavalier and the Lightning try and extend a five-game winning streak as the Southeast Division rivals continue their season series Monday night.
Atlanta (9-10-0) is 9-4 since general manager Don Waddell took over for Bob Hartley as coach, and the team has called off its coaching search for now. Waddell said Friday the Thrashers wouldn't hire any outside coaching candidates this season. He fired Hartley last month, took over himself and Atlanta has turned its season around.
"We're keeping it internal, we're not going to bring an external candidate in," Waddell said after a 3-0 win over Carolina on Friday night. "We like the way things are going right now, so why change when things are going well?"
One player who has certainly thrived since Waddell took over is Kovalchuk, who feels comfortable playing in an offensive philosophy designed to play fast and create opportunities. The star winger has 13 goals and 23 points since Hartley was fired, including four goals and an assist in two games against Tampa Bay (10-8-1).
Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist while Marian Hossa found the back of the net twice and added an assist against the Hurricanes. Johan Hedberg stopped the NHL's highest-scoring team, making 31 saves for his 11th career shutout.
Hedberg, however, has struggled against the Lightning this season, going 0-2-0 with a 6.01 goals-against average. He is 4-5-1 with one tie and a 3.35 GAA in 13 games against Tampa Bay lifetime.
Lecavalier had one goal and one assist in each of his games against Hedberg this season, and has 10 goals and 27 points in his last 19 games against Atlanta. The veteran center has helped the Lightning win five straight in regulation for the first time since an eight-game run from Feb. 23-March 6, 2004, totaling six goals and 14 points in that span.
Tampa Bay lost six straight before its winning streak, with Lecavalier failing to score a goal in the last three games of that stretch.
Lecavalier had a goal and two assists to extend his team record for consecutive multipoint games to seven, and Johan Holmqvist made 28 saves as Tampa Bay beat Washington 5-2 on Friday night. Lecavalier has six goals and 13 assists during the points streak.
Holmqvist has also been outstanding during the Lightning's run, posting a 1.40 GAA while notching all five wins. He is 4-2-1 with a 2.54 GAA in seven games against the Thrashers.
"It's important," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said of Holmqvist's ability to keep games close. "Holmer certainly has done his job."
Holmqvist has been complemented by an offense that has scored five or more goals in four straight games.
Jan Hlavac, Brad Richards, Paul Ranger and Martin St. Louis also scored Friday for the Lightning. St. Louis also had two assists to extend his points streak to seven games (five goals, 14 points).
Tampa Bay is 2-1 against Atlanta this season, but lost the last matchup 6-4 on Nov. 3. Kovalchuk recorded a hat trick in the final 24:37 of the game as the Thrashers rallied from a three-goal deficit with five unanswered goals.
The Lightning are 6-2-1 in Atlanta since losing three in a row there.