TAMPA, Fla. – It took less than four minutes for Vaclav Prospal to open the scoring in Saturday’s matchup against the Atlanta Thrashers but that was all the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to get the ball rolling. With Prospal and Brad Richards each posting two goals, and Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis adding multi-point efforts, the Lightning skated to a dominating 5-2 win against the Thrashers at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Lightning jumped to the early 1-0 lead when Prospal connected for his first goal of the night. With former Lightning forward Eric Perrin serving a two-minute minor for tripping, Tampa Bay saw Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg make a pad save before scoring at even-strength.
As Lecavalier gained position at the goal line to the right of Hedberg, Prospal skated towards the top of the crease. Lecavalier paused and held the puck before making a centering pass through two Atlanta defenders to Prospal deep in the slot. Prospal skated towards Hedberg as he fired a wrist shot, beating the Thrashers netminder for his second goal of the season.
Skating out of the opening period with a 1-0 lead, Tampa Bay out-shot Atlanta 13-4 and had a number of solid scoring opportunities. Jan Hlavac had one of the strongest chances for the Lightning’s second line midway through the period, firing a shot from the left faceoff circle after collecting a loose puck in the zone.
Lecavalier and St. Louis also contributed a series of chances late in the period as the two skated hard towards the net. With St. Louis leading the way into the offensive zone, the Lightning winger dropped a pass back to Lecavalier who fired a shot on Hedberg from the right faceoff circle. After the Lightning collected the rebound Lecavalier put a point-blank shot on Hedberg, who covered the puck for the save.
With Tampa Bay skating into the second period with a one-goal lead, Atlanta winger Marian Hossa connected less than a minute into the frame to tie the game at one. Hossa, the Thrashers leading score during the 2006-07 season with 100 points (43 goals, 57 assists) was credited with an unassisted marker against goaltender Johan Holmqvist.
Despite the deficit, the line of Hlavac, Richards and Michel Ouellet combined to put pressure on Hedberg before the Lightning connected for two second period goals. Hlavac tested Hedberg early in the period when he gained control of the puck and moved through two Atlanta defenders to fire a shot. Hedberg made a kick save on the play, sending the puck into the corner.
The line would later combine for a stuff-in attempt at the side of Hedberg after Richards skated the puck around from behind the net and threw a pass out to the top of the crease. Hlavac tried to jam the puck in to the left of Hedberg, but defenseman Steve McCarthy helped clear the puck loose and away from the Atlanta net.
Although held pointless in the contest Hlavac posted four shots on the night, combining for nine shots with linemates Richards and Ouellet. Tampa Bay eventually capitalized on their chances when Prospal and Richards notched specialty teams markers only 1:11 apart.
Connecting for the first of two Lightning power play goals on the night, Prospal posted his third goal of the season on a re-directed shot at the top of the crease. As St. Louis fired a shot from the right point Prospal created a screen and got his stick on the puck, tipping the shot through the left glove arm of Hedberg.
A little more than a minute later Richards netted his first of two goals in the contest, a shorthanded goal at 15:49 of the second period. Breaking up an Atlanta pass at the blueline, Richards stole the puck and skated in with a Thrashers defender trailing behind. Richards faked a deke and slid the puck to the right of Hedberg for his first goal of the season.
Late in the period Nick Tarnasky looked to build the Lightning lead, getting a pair of shots at the top of the crease. Despite moving to the backhand and collecting his own rebound attempts, Hedberg held on for the save.
Following up a two-goal second period, the Lightning posted two more scores in the third to seal the win. At 5:22 of the final frame, Lecavalier posted an unassisted marker to give the Lightning a 4-1 lead.
As Atlanta’s Niclas Havelid tried to settle the puck high in the Lightning’s offensive zone, Lecavalier skated in and stripped the defenseman of the puck. Lecavalier skated in on Hedberg and moved to the backhand, sliding a shot past Hedberg as he fell back into the net. The goal stood as Lecavalier’s third of the season, and second point of the night (one goal, one assist).
Playing with a three-goal lead, Tampa Bay was hit with a series of penalties midway through the third period. Despite killing off 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 Thrashers man-advantage, winger Vyacheslav Kozlov connected on a one-timed shot to bring his team on the remaining penalty.
The goal wouldn’t be enough for the comeback as Richards notched his second goal of the contest to finalize the score, 5-2. After Richards saw a wrist shot denied by Hedberg, the Lightning kept control of the puck around the net. St. Louis made a pass up to Richards from below the goal line and the Tampa Bay winger fired a low shot that snuck between Hedberg’s right skate and the post.
Richards has more points against the Thrashers than any other NHL team, improving his totals to 16 goals and 44 assists through 38 career matchups. St. Louis and defenseman Filip Kuba added two assists in the contest.
The “MVP” line of St. Louis, Lecavalier and Prospal has a combined 13 points (six goals, seven assists) through the first two games of the season and have a combined 22 shots. Lecavalier led all skaters with nine shots by Lecavalier in the contest.
“Against a team like this, especially when Lecavalier, Prospal, Richards and St. Louis are on the ice, they’ll suddenly make you pay,” Atlanta head coach Bob Hartley said. “They took control of the game right from the start and they applied lots of good pressure on us.”
Tampa Bay out-shot Atlanta 34-15, with Holmqvist making 13 saves for his second win in two games.
“We did a great job defensively,” Holmqvist said. “If you have a good defense, you’re probably going to score and create a lot of [offense].”
“I think it was a pretty complete game,” Lightning head coach John Tortorella said. “I thought we did a much better job in the battles, I thought we played good, strong defense and special teams were good… the power play scored a couple big goals at key times, so it was a night that I thought everybody contributed.”
The game marked the first of eight meetings between the two clubs, including the first of four at Tampa Bay. The Lightning close out their season-opening three-game homestand with a matchup against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, October 10 (7:30p.m., Sun Sports, 620WDAE) at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Wrist shot -
1 - 0 TBL
Wrist shot -
1 - 1 Tie
Martin St. Louis