ATLANTA – Playing their third game in five nights, on Saturday night the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped their first road decision in a month. As the Lightning skated against the Atlanta Thrashers for the sixth time this season, Alexei Zhitnik scored the overtime winner in a 2-1 Thrashers win.
Vincent Lecavalier scored the lone goal and Johan Holmqvist made 20 saves as Tampa Bay closed out a three-game road trip at Atlanta. The Lightning dropped their first road contest since a January 5 match-up against the Ottawa Senators, snapping a season-high road six-game winning streak.
Early in the contest Holmqvist held off a pair of strong Atlanta chances, denying a slapshot by Bobby Holik before blocking an attempt by Eric Perrin. Covering the left post, Holmqvist held off Perrin as he stepped from behind the net to the side of the crease for a shot.
Minutes later Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen denied Lecavalier as he broke into the offensive zone down the right side. After Martin St. Louis fought the puck off the boards at the opposite end of the ice, Lecavalier skated to the top of the right faceoff circle. Lecavalier switched to the backhand for the shot, but Lehtonen made the pad save.
As play swirled around the offensive zone, Dan Boyle tried to connect on a backdoor pass by Brad Richards.
Boyle fired a shot down into the right corner before Lecavalier got the puck to the left side of the crease. Richards ended up with the loose puck before finding Boyle open for a pass at the opposite side of the net. Boyle tried to put a quick shot behind Lehtonen, but the Thrashers goalie made the pad save.
Lightning defenseman Filip Kuba (71) checks Atlanta Thrashers right wing Chris Thorburn (27) as Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist covers the puck during the third period in Atlanta on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
The teams continued to exchange chances through the scoreless first period, and as the Lightning skated down a man Holmqvist made a number of strong saves to keep the game tied. After making a pad save on a one-timed slapshot by Ilya Kovalchuk at the left point, Holmqvist went on to hold off a pair of Thrashers power play attempts by Tobias Enstrom and Vyacheslav Kozlov.
With four minutes remaining in the frame Chris Gratton found Nick Tarnasky with a centering pass at the front of the net. Lehtonen made a pad save on Tarnasky’s quick shot as he crashed towards the crease before play returned to the opposite end of the ice.
Taking a backhanded pass through the goalmouth by Marian Hossa, Kozlov tipped a shot on goal to the right of Holmqvist. The puck deflected off the bottom of the crossbar and out of the net, sending the game into the second tied.
The Lightning put a series of strong chances on Lehtonen early in the middle frame before Lecavalier connected for his team-leading 32nd goal of the season.
Early in the period Jan Hlavac fed the puck to Vaclav Prospal at the front of the net. After Lehtonen saved the shot, the play turned back up the ice where Holmqvist made a save on Holik. Faking a shot from the left faceoff circle, Holik skated into the slot for a wrist shot.
Minutes later Tarnasky was held off on another strong shot before Lecavalier put Tampa Bay on the board. Converting a long feed by Richards, Lecavalier switched to his backhand as Lehtonen sprawled in his crease to make the save. Lecavalier popped the shot into the top corner of the net for his 72nd point of the season.
With the lone helper on the goal, Richards posted his 10th point in 10 games, including six assists.
Lehtonen opened the final period with a diving save on Gratton. Getting a piece of his glove on the puck, Lehtonen denied Gratton after the Tampa Bay center spun around 180-degrees in the slot.
Within minutes, Hossa tied the game at one with his 24th goal of the season. Firing a one-timed shot off a pass by Kozlov, Hossa beat Holmqvist through a screen from the right faceoff dot.
The line of Tarnasky, Gratton and Craig MacDonald tested Atlanta late in the game, with MacDonald firing off a pair of strong shots.
With Tarnasky fighting for the puck behind the net, MacDonald got the loose puck to Gratton at the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Gratton got off a point-blank shot before MacDonald followed up the rebound on the play.
Late in the game as a dump-in rolled up the left side boards, Shane O’Brien got the puck over to Tarnasky in the slot. Tarnasky passed the puck up to MacDonald who spun around to fire a shot. The post rang off the left post, setting up the Lightning’s second consecutive overtime game.
At 1:15 of overtime Filip Kuba found Jason Ward open with a pass, sending the Tampa Bay winger crashing to the net for a re-direct attempt. On the following play, Atlanta moved the puck up the ice where Zhitnik faked a shot before putting the puck high to the stick side against Holmqvist.
The Lightning out-shot the Thrashers in the contest, 28-22. Lecavalier and Gratton tied all Tampa Bay skaters with four shots each.
With the decision, Holmqvist had a season-high five-game road winning streak snapped. The Lightning goalie posted two shutouts and allowed only nine goals during his streak.
Dating back to a January 3 match-up at Montreal, the Lightning have not posted a regulation road loss through eight games. During their six-game winning streak, Tampa Bay out-scored their opponents 22-11.
On Tuesday, February 12 (7:00p.m., 620 WDAE), the Lightning will make a one-game stop on their home ice at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa Bay is set to host the Montreal Canadiens for the second and final time this season.
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