Thanks to Steven Stamkos
, the Tampa Bay Lightning
finished off a four-game road trip that was quickly turning sour on a positive note.
Stamkos scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season 2:56 into overtime Sunday and the Lightning survived blowing a pair of two-goal, third-period leads to defeat the Atlanta Thrashers
4-3 at Philips Arena.
The first pick in the 2008 Entry Draft continued what has been a standout sophomore season by converting a Martin St. Louis
feed from the left circle past Ondrej Pavelec. It was the third assist in the game for St. Louis.
"From a team perspective, I thought we played pretty solid and stuck to the game plan," Stamkos said. "We got lots of shots on net. We were forechecking, hard hitting."
Antero Niittymaki finished with 28 saves for the Lightning and improved to 15-0-0 in his career against the Thrashers. The previous 14 wins had all come while Niittymaki played for Philadelphia.
In his first season for Tampa, the Finnish goaltender is finding success against all opponents – he improved to 6-1-3 on the season, with a .936 save percentage that ranks first in the League and a 2.02 goals-against average that is second.
"Hopefully, he can keep it up," Lightning forward Ryan Malone
said. "He made some big saves."
Nevertheless, Atlanta did rally in the third on goals by Tobias Enstrom, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Evander Kane to gain a point in the standings. Pavelec finished with 36 saves.
"To come back like that – obviously it's huge to get a point, but by no means do I think we deserved to be in that game," Thrashers forward Colby Armstrong said. "Our goalie played great. We were brutal for at least two and a half periods probably. It's good to get a point, yeah, but we've got to give our heads a shake at home here."
Malone, Stephane Veilleux and Kurtis Foster all scored in regulation for the Lightning, who had lost their last two in Anaheim and Carolina. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the Ducks only to fall in overtime, then fell victim as the Hurricanes won in regulation for the first time in six weeks.
"It's just a matter of protecting the lead," Stamkos said. "We can't expect to do that and win overtime after giving up those two goals."
Niittymaki carried a shutout into the third before Enstrom cut a 2-0 Tampa lead in half at 5:29 with a wrister from the slot. However, the Lightning quickly got that goal back, as Foster struck on a power play at 9:20 with Todd White of the Thrashers off for interference.
Kozlov’s second of the season with 4:23 remaining made it 3-2 before Kane, the fourth pick in this year’s Entry Draft, scored his seventh with 2:31 left to force overtime.
Pavelec was stellar in a first period that saw Tampa enjoy a 15-8 advantage in shots, keeping the game scoreless into the second.
Veilleux picked up his first goal with the Lightning at the 5:45 mark, and Malone doubled the lead by putting a wrist shot past Pavelec with 24 seconds left before the intermission.
"It's the same story, same song … again we come back in the third and start to play in the third. I don't know," Pavelec said. "In the NHL, if you play only 20 minutes, or say 10 minutes, it's not enough. We just lose the point like that. Our division is pretty tight and it's going to be a fight. I think they deserved two points. They wanted two points more than us."
Material from wire services and team online media was used in this report.