Antero Niittymaki knows the Atlanta Thrashers all too well.
Teammate Jeff Halpern, on the other hand, got the best of an unfamiliar foe.
Niittymaki extended his career record against Atlanta to 15-0-0, stopping 37 of 38 shots, and Halpern scored the lone goal in the fifth round of the shootout to give the Lightning a 2-1 victory over their Southeast division rivals on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Halpern, who entered the contest 0-for-3 in his career in the shootout, skated through the slot before firing a wrist shot past Thrashers goaltender Johan Hedberg.
Niittymaki took over from there, stoning Atlanta’s final shooter in Todd White to seal the win.
“Every time we play them, I feel lucky to win those games,” Niittymaki said. “Sometimes we’re able to win some decent games, a couple of shootouts, but I don’t know, I don’t really focus on that. These two points for us were pretty big for us anyways, it doesn’t matter who we play against.”
Tampa Bay, who played its second straight game in extra time, has gone 6-1-1 in their last eight at home.
Atlanta, meanwhile, posts a 2-10-3 record away from home in its last 15 games and prolonged its power play slump, where they are 5-for-66 in the last 16 matches.
“We had control of the game pretty much the whole way,” Atlanta head coach John Anderson said. “I thought we carried the play to them and just couldn’t score. The power play didn’t score again, and that’s a bit of a sore spot with me right now, but we can’t change that right now.”
The victory tied Tampa Bay, winners in three out of its last four, with Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings at 52 points and just three spots out of the final playoff spot.
Steven Stamkos scored for the second time in as many nights, this time on the power play, tying the game just three minutes after Atlanta’s Nik Antropov opened scoring at 5:23 for an early 1-0 lead.
The mark with the man advantage moved him into a tie for second place in the NHL with 10 power play goals this season. Stamkos also moved into a first-place tie among players with the most power play points, joining Martin St. Louis with 24.
Niittymaki made 28 consecutive saves following the game’s opening goal and the Lightning’s penalty kill unit eliminated all five opposing power play chances on the night, including one with just over a minute to play in overtime, to force the contest into the shootout.
“They had like two or three chances to win it coming down in Niitty’s [Niittymaki] end. Him keeping us in there gave us life,” Halpern said.
Kurtis Foster, who tallied an assist earlier in the game, appeared to have clinched the win for Tampa Bay when his attempt in the fourth round of the shootout trickled into the goal after he was tripped up on a poke check by Hedberg. After video review, however, it was determined that the puck deflected off of the skater’s shin pad, negating the goal.
Halpern converted the next opportunity though, earning the Bolts their second shootout win of the season.
“The wins are all big. There are 30 games left and I think it’s crunch time,” Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet said. “We’ve got to put a string together to get to the next dance. This was a game where we kind of stole two points, but Niittymaki was great for us and it was an excellent goal by Halpy [Jeff Halpern]. A great, great goal by him to win the game for us.”
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