THRASHERS (17-11-3) at LIGHTNING (16-10-4)
TV: SPSO (HD), SUN (HD)
Atlanta 8-2-0; Tampa Bay 5-3-2
Third of six meetings between these Southeast Division rivals. Tampa Bay won the first two back in the season's opening month. Steven Stamkos
scored twice and added an assist in a 5-3 win at home on Oct. 9, and then outdid that performance by recording the hat trick in a 5-2 win in Atlanta on Oct. 22.
Earlier this season it looked like Washington might run away with the Southeast, as has been the case in past seasons. But while the Capitals have hit the skids of late, the Thrashers and Lightning have been steadily making up ground. Now, if the Caps lose Wednesday to the Ducks in regulation, the Thrashers could tie them for first place if they win this game while the Lightning would be just a point out with a victory.
In Atlanta's two losses to Tampa Bay this season, goalie Ondrej Pavelec was on the injured list after his fainting spell and concussion suffered opening night. Since returning, Pavelec has claimed undisputed possession of the No. 1 job and has put up numbers (1.85 goals-against average, .942 save percentage) ranking him among the NHL leaders. He was solid in Monday's 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa, won on Bryan Little's second goal of the night at 1:09 of the extra period.
"Good teams find ways to win, and we've been doing that," defenseman Zach Bogosian said. "Pav's been really big for us. They could have easily went up there by a goal at the end. He made some pretty big saves, so it was big on Bryan Little to step up in overtime and get that win for us."
It's safe to say that Stamkos has busted out of the slump that saw him go six games without a goal. He scored in the third period to tie the game in Tampa Bay's shootout loss in Edmonton last Friday, and the next night Stamkos tallied a pair, including his League-leading 11th power-play goal 34 seconds into overtime as the Lightning earned a 5-4 win over the Canucks. It was the franchise's first victory in Vancouver.
"It feels good," Stamkos said. "A huge win and a great way to end this road trip."
Little has 4 goals in his last three games and a four-game points streak overall for the Thrashers. Over the longer term, Dustin Byfuglien has 6 goals and 10 assists over the last dozen games. … Ryan Malone
has 4 goals and 6 assists during a seven-game points streak for the Lightning. Martin St. Louis
has 1 goal and 5 assists over the last four games.
Tampa Bay has forwards Vincent Lecavalier
(hand) and Steve Downie
(ankle) on injured reserve. Forward Mattias Ritola
has missed the last two games due to illness.
It took Byfuglien only 31 games to set the Thrashers' franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman. He has 11 already, one more than Bogosian last season and Yannick Tremblay during their inaugural 1999-2000 season. … The Lightning were 0-8-2-1 all-time in Vancouver prior to Saturday's victory.
Atlanta let a three-goal lead slip away against Ottawa before Little saved the day in overtime, allowing coach Craig Ramsay to make light of it after the game.
"They were afraid the fans were losing interest at 3-0 so they decided to let them back in it by giving them a couple," Ramsay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It worked very well. We managed to let them back in it."