TAMPA, Fla. – Coming off a three-game road trip, the Tampa Bay Lightning made a one-game stop at the St. Pete Times Forum to face off against the division rival Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night. Meeting for the third time this season, the Lightning dropped a 6-4 division on a late Thrashers comeback.
Although defenseman Shane O’Brien posted his first two goals of the season for Tampa Bay, Ilya Kovalchuk recorded his second hat trick in consecutive games and added an assist to lead Atlanta to the victory.
Atlanta opened the scoring midway through the first period after putting a pair of strong scoring chances on goaltender Johan Holmqvist. Early in the frame Kovalchuk fed a pass to Eric Perrin at the right faceoff circle where the former Lightning forwarded snapped a shot on Holmqvist. Making his third start of the season against the Thrashers, Holmqvist held on to the shot for the save.
Minutes later the Tampa Bay netminder made a strong glove save to deny Kovalchuk. After skating through the neutral zone and down the right side boards, Kovalchuk fired a wrist shot on Holmqvist only to see the puck grabbed on the play.
Connecting with the man advantage, Tobias Enstrom posted his second goal the season at 9:28 of the period. Firing a shot off a pass by Kovalchuk, Enstrom beat Holmqvist to give the Thrashers a 1-0 lead.
Tampa Bay responded to tie the game at one less than two minutes later on O’Brien’s first goal of the night. As Vaclav Prospal threw a shot towards the net O’Brien jumped into the play to re-direct the puck past Thrashers netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
With 2:06 remaining in the period O’Brien netted his second goal to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead. Firing the puck from the left point, O’Brien’s rising slap shot deflected off an Atlanta defender to beat Pavalec into the top left corner of the net. The score gave O’Brien his first career multi-goal game.
As Tampa Bay opened the second period with a one-goal lead, Jan Hlavac came inches from scoring on a play in front of the net. With Pavelec positioned high in the crease Brad Richards put a shot on the Atlanta goalie. The rebound bounced out to Hlavac who tried to fire the puck to the right of Pavelec, but the shot went wide.
Minutes later the Lightning connected to build a two-goal lead on a similar play. Converting a man advantage opportunity, Vincent Lecavalier put a shot on net from the top of the slot. With Pavelec down in the crease, Michel Ouellet banged the puck into the open right side of the net for his third goal of the season.
Tampa Bay extended their lead with a little more than five minutes remaining in the frame, connecting on a 5-on-3 power play. With Niclas Havelid and Ken Klee serving minor penalties and defenseman Garnet Exelby playing without his broken stick, Richards fired a shot from the left hash marks that popped over Pavelec for the score. The goal was Richards’ sixth of the season.
Tampa Bay looked to extend their lead on the same power play when Prospal dished the puck across the zone to Lecavalier at the top of the crease. Lecavalier tried to fire the shot into the open side but Pavelec held on for the save.
Less than a minute after Richards scored Kovalchuk posted his first goal of the night to cut the Lightning lead in half. Connecting shorthanded, Kovalchuk skated up the ice and towards the net to fire the shot past Holmqvist.
A mere 59 seconds later Marian Hossa added his third goal of the season. Skating into the Thrashers offensive zone with the puck, Hossa opted for the shot to bring Atlanta within one.
Despite skating into the third period down 4-3, Atlanta connected three times in the final 20 minutes to win the game.
Kovalchuk tied the game at four 7:21 into the third after carrying the puck out of the neutral zone. Flicking a shot to the glove side on Holmqvist, the Thrashers winger posted his 11th goal of the season. Pascal Dupuis added his second of the year, the eventual game-winner, with 2:08 remaining in the contest on a tipped-in shot at the front of the net.
Closing out the scoring, Kovalchuk added his sixth goal in two games to post his ninth career hat trick.
Tampa Bay out-shot Atlanta 34-22 in the contest, including 11-5 in the final period, while going 2-for-4 with the man advantage. Holmqvist posted the decision for the Lightning, picking up only his second career loss against the Thrashers.
Both Lecavalier and St. Louis picked up three assists in the contest, while Lecavalier led all skaters with five shots on goal. Lecavalier has recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) through three games against Atlanta this season. After leading Tampa Bay with 14 points against the Thrashers in 2006-07, St. Louis has posted one goal and seven assists in this season’s series.
The game marked the first loss against the Thrashers through three meetings this season. Tampa Bay is 7-4-0 against Atlanta in the last 11 meetings between the clubs at the St. Pete Times Forum. The teams are set to meet five more times this season, including one more match-up at Tampa Bay.
The Lightning return to the road on Monday, November 5 (7:30p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) for the first contest of a home-and-home series against the Florida Panthers. Tampa Bay travels south for the second of four meetings at Florida this season.