The Tampa Bay Lightning have surged into a first-place tie with Atlanta in the Southeast Division as the Thrashers have slumped. On Thursday night, the Lightning will look take over sole possession of the top spot when the teams meet at Philips Arena.
The Lightning (34-24-3) are tied with Pittsburgh for the most points in the NHL since Jan. 6 with 31, going 15-3-1 in its last 19 games. That run, along with Atlanta's poor play, has changed things quickly in the Southeast.
On Jan. 6, the Lightning had 40 points were just two up on Florida for last place. The Thrashers, meanwhile, were tied for the NHL's fourth-best record and had an eight-point lead in the division.
The Lightning, however, have since joined the Thrashers in first and defeated the Panthers 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday to improve to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. The Thrashers managed to keep pace, ending a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Carolina on Tuesday to complete a season-high six-game road trip. Atlanta (31-22-9) had lost seven of eight.
"We're trying to win a battle to get points," Lightning goalie Marc Denis said. "If we want to stay on top of that division, you've got to win on a consistent basis."
The Lightning rallied to avoid a second straight defeat and a home-and-home sweep by Florida, as Martin St. Louis got the equalizer on a power play with 12:17 left in regulation and scored the winning shootout goal in the third round.
"We found a way to get a couple of points, but I think we're mature enough of a hockey team to know that we're not playing our best hockey," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "That's when good teams get better, still getting points in those situations."
St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have recorded points in each of the Lightning's last five games. St. Louis has four goals and three assists in that span, while Lecavalier has five goals and six assists.
Both players have four-game point streaks against Atlanta, with St. Louis recording three goals and seven assists in those contests and Lecavalier adding four goals and four assists during the stretch.
Lecavalier's 39 goals are the most in the NHL.
The Thrashers hope their top scoring threat, Marian Hossa, has ended his struggles. The forward had his second straight two-point performance with a short-handed goal and an assist against Carolina. Hossa had gone four games without a goal and nine of 10, but his score early in the third Tuesday sparked a 3-0 period for Atlanta.
"It's huge to get a win like this," Hossa said. "It was a divisional game and it was a big confidence booster for us."
The Thrashers might give Johan Hedberg another start after he stopped 33 shots Tuesday for his first win since Dec. 5. Hedberg started in place of Kari Lehtonen, who has allowed four goals in each of his last two games and dropped three straight.
Hedberg and Lehtonen each have faced Tampa Bay 10 times. Hedberg is 4-3-1 with a 2.71 goals-against average, while Lehtonen has a 3-4-2 mark and a 2.67 GAA against the Lightning.
The Lightning have won four of six meetings with the Thrashers this season.
Tampa Bay has scored a power-play goal in each of its last five games. Atlanta has killed off six straight short-handed situations in the last two contests after giving up 15 power-play goals in 36 opportunities over a nine-game span.
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