Mike Smith made teammate Antero Niittymaki proud on Saturday night, and in doing so, earned the Lightning a significant two points in the Southeast Division standings.
Niittymaki, who posts a career 14-0-0 record against Atlanta, yielded goaltending duties to Smith who stopped 24 of 27 shots while earning Tampa Bay its third win in its last four.
“He was spectacular two or three times in the second period, and those might have been some game-changing saves for him,” opposing head coach John Anderson said of the Lightning net minder.
Atlanta lost its second straight, and its first of the season when either leading or tied after two periods as they fell 4-3 to the Lightning in the third of six meetings this season, which also was the first at the St. Pete Times Forum. Steve Downie, Mike Lundin, Ryan Malone and Alex Tanguay scored for Tampa Bay, who tallied its first win on its current five-game home stand.
Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis also marked the score sheet, recording a combined four assists. Lecavalier’s performance tied a season-high three points and a plus-3 rating, earning him the honor of the game’s first star.
Both clubs erased one-goal deficits to tie the game through the first two periods, with Nik Antropov opening scoring at 11:48 before Downie knotted the game under two minutes later with his seventh of the season.
Entering the contest, the Lightning looked to Lundin, who was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate earlier in the day after leading the minor league club’s defensemen in points, to add speed and depth to the blue line, as well as contribute offensively.
The fourth-year defenseman did just that.
Lundin extended the lead in the second period with his first NHL goal, coming off a Lecavalier give-and-go that gave the Bolts a 2-1 advantage.
“It [scoring] is a part of my game that I’ve been working on, so I just tried to pass it to Vinny [Lecavalier] because I knew he’d get it back to me. He got it [the puck] to me and I just put it on net,” Lundin said.
The Thrashers caught a break late in the second period as Marty Reasoner was credited with a goal that bounced off the post before being kicked in by Smith’s left skate as the goaltender attempted to get back into position.
Coming out of a 2-2 tie to begin the third period, Tanguay netted his fifth of the season to regain Tampa Bay’s lead at 5:04.
The go-ahead goal seemed to spark momentum, as Malone put back a rebound off of Steven Stamkos’ slap shot that bounced off the pad of Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec before finding the back of the net. Martin St. Louis earned his first and only point on the goal, good for his sixth in the Lightning winger’s last four contests.
“You try to learn from your past experiences and I think tonight the players wanted to do something about it,” Tampa Bay head coach Rick Tocchet said. “Obviously getting a couple of goals there gave us that cushion.”
Ilya Kovalchuk cut the Bolts lead in half at 16:50 in the third, but the rally fell short as the Lightning defense held Atlanta back in their own zone during the last minute of play.
“We had talked about the significance of winning this game in the pre-game skate and in the team meeting,” Lundin added. “I realize this is a pretty important game for the team, and just to refresh ourselves over the [Christmas] break, I think they [his Lightning teammates] were all focused on this next little stretch.”
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.