Despite a rally midway through the second period, the Lightning dropped their season opener to the Atlanta Thrashers tonight before a capacity crowd at Philips Arena. The count at the final buzzer was 6-3 in favor of the home team.
"The bottom line is, bounce or not, you have to find a way to make saves. We were looking for a better start than that. It's tough to swallow, but it's a long season and we'll get over it quickly."
"Obviously, we were expecting a better result. We're not going to let this define our season. There's no need to panic."
It only took a little over eight minutes to register a tally on the scoreboard.
Unfortunately, the goal was credited to Atlanta when, with 11:24 left on the clock in the opening stanza, Ilya Kovalchuk picked up a breakout pass from Pavel Kubina and, after getting a few strides on Andrej Meszaros, launched a shot towards Tampa Bay’s net. Though Kovalchuk’s wrister was stopped by Mike Smith, Paul Ranger inadvertently tipped the rebound in to give the Thrashers the lead.
Just three minutes later, Anssi Salmela upped Atlanta’s lead to two goals, beating Smith with a wrist shot he was able to fire off when Eric Boulton found a passing lane around Vinny Lecavalier.
Despite leading Atlanta in shots on goal (12-8) and scoring chances (6-5) throughout the first frame, the Lightning failed to capitalize on a number of quality opportunities created by crisp tape-to-tape passing and a decidedly aggressive forecheck.
Still, Tampa Bay wasted no time getting the puck on net, effectively crashing the crease and walking the puck in tightly as evidenced by a number of Lecavalier rockets that, at such close range, repeatedly knocked the wind out of Atlanta netminder, Ondrej Pavelec.
Entering the second period short-handed, the Bolts escaped their second penalty kill of the evening unscathed.
With the Thrashers putting Smith to the test as they slowed the pace of the game a bit and worked the puck low in the Lightning zone, Tampa Bay was hard-pressed to regain the kind of momentum they displayed in the first frame and suffered from a handful of neutral zone turnovers.
The defense continued to play a strong north-south game however, as the Lightning pressured Atlanta and created a handful of odd-man rushes.
After Marty St. Louis was turned away on a breakout, Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian steamrolled down the ice to beat Mattias Ohlund and score the Thrashers third goal of the night on a backhander through the five-hole.
“I kind of went to the net hard there and luckily it went five-hole. Kind of a lucky bounce on my part,” said Bogosian.
Tampa Bay ceded a fourth goal at the 12:42 mark when, after working the puck around Victor Hedman, Evander Kane fed Rich Peverley to rack up the first point of his NHL career.
In spite of the deficit however, the Bolts quickly launched an offensive as St. Louis deflected a beautiful shot from Hedman past Pavelec, with the Lightning rookie answering fellow draftee Kane’s inaugural tally with an assist of his own.
With minutes left in the second period, the Lightning’s second goal came on the team’s first power play of the night. The man advantage appeared short-lived, after Ryan Malone was called for cross checking, but with Kovalchuk cited for hooking mere seconds after Malone’s infraction, the Bolts got right back into the game as St. Louis found the back of the net for the second time.
Building on the beginnings of a comeback, Tampa Bay entered the third frame with swagger and quickly jumped on the board again as Andrej Meszaros ripped a shot from the point off a Lecavalier faceoff victory just 2:11 in.
Matt Walker recorded his first point as a member of the Lightning on the play, joining fellow newbie’s Hedman, Ohlund, and Alex Tanguay who also notched assists on the night and their first as members of the Tampa Bay squad.
With one goal separating the two teams, the pace of the game picked up steam and took on a noticeably aggressive air as the final minutes ticked away.
Despite a number of quality scoring chances and a marked improvement in getting pucks to the net (39 shots on goal, in total), the Lightning failed to answer Atlanta’s tally with the Thrashers putting the game out of reach by adding an additional pair of goals in the latter half of the third.
Smith stopped 22 of 28 shots and both Zenon Konopka and Todd Fedoruk drew 5-minute fighting penalties after dropping the gloves with Atlanta’s Chris Thornburn and Eric Boulton, respectively.
Tampa Bay next heads to Raleigh, North Carolina for two days of practice before meeting the Hurricanes for the first time this season on Tuesday, October 6.
tampabaylightning.com is the official Web site of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay Lightning and tampabaylightning.com are trademarks of Lightning Hockey L.P. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2013 Lightning Hockey, L.P. and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.