The Lightning forwards helped Antero Niittymaki make the most of his last chance of the season to stay perfect against Atlanta.
The Lightning net minder stopped 29 of 31shots, Steven Stamkos scored twice, and Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Paul Szczechura and Teddy Purcell each had a goal for Tampa Bay, who climbed to within one point of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with its fifth consecutive win over the Southeast Division rivals.
The victory snapped a five-game winless streak, as Niittymaki improved his career mark to 17-0-0 against the Thrashers and won for the eighth time in his last 12 starts.
Stamkos broke a 1-1 deadlock at 13:06 in the first period on the man advantage, tying the franchise single-season record of 16 power play goals.
The second-year Lightning forward also took sole possession of the league’s longest active point streak of 16 games after Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin was held scoreless on Saturday against Dallas.
“He’s a special player,” Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet said. “I talked to Mario [Lemieux] earlier and he even came up to me and said ‘This kid can play.’ Mario is probably one of the best players ever to play the game, so for him to say that, that’s saying something.”
Steve Downie tallied an assist in the contest, prolonging his career-high point streak to 10 games.
St. Louis recorded his second consecutive three-point night and has recorded points in 15 of his last 17 contests. The Lightning winger has six assists in his last three games.
“The guys played hard and we scored a lot of goals tonight, which was nice,” Tocchet added. “It was a good effort and they guys worked hard. It really was a nice win for us.”
Niclas Bergfors and Colby Armstrong scored for Atlanta, who failed to win for the third consecutive time.
“We started off pretty good there before we got into penalty trouble, and they took advantage of it,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said.
St. Louis erased a one-goal deficit midway through the first period after Bergfors gave Atlanta an early lead on a rebound at 3:22 to open the game. The Lightning winger was tripped up on a breakaway when his shot deflected off Atlanta’s Johnny Oduya before sliding into the back of the net.
“It shifted the momentum a little bit,” Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg said. “It was a lucky play, but it happens. They got a quick one on the power play and then it was 3-1 after, so from there we were in a hole. I thought they played pretty smart.”
Tampa Bay went up 2-1 on Stamkos’ patented one-timer from the left circle at 13:06 and Szczechura, after being recalled from Norfolk earlier in the day, cushioned the lead with a slap shot from the high slot as he finished off a nifty feed from Brandon Bochenski.
Atlanta cut the deficit to one at 13:37 in the middle frame on a second-chance effort by Armstrong, who slipped the puck past the pad of Niittymaki.
“It was nice to keep going and try and get back, but I thought they were a little sharper and wanted it a little bit more,” Anderson added. “I think they were desperate, and if we had won, it would have really hurt their chances. But now they’re right back in it.”
Purcell, acquired on Wednesday in the Jeff Halpern deal, reclaimed Tampa Bay’s two-goal advantage after flipping a backhand over Hedberg on a penalty shot after he was taken down in the slot on a breakaway.
Lecavalier, coming off a two-goal performance on Thursday against Washington, found the back of the net again to open the third period and widen the margin to three before Stamkos capped the effort with his second goal of the night and 40th on the season.
Stamkos has 50 goals over 82 games dating back to Mar. 6 of last year.
“The sense of urgency was there and some of the little plays were there,” Tocchet said. “The effort from some of the guys was special. They’re special guys – Stamkos, Marty, Vinny played well again tonight – all the guys fought.”
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