TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Lightning closed out their 2007-08 home schedule on Monday night, but a pair of goals by Ilya Kovalchuk proved to be the difference in the contest. Facing the Atlanta Thrashers, the Lightning closed a four-game stand at the St. Pete Times Forum, dropping a 2-0 decision to their division rival.
Although Tampa Bay put 36 shots on goal, goaltender Kari Lehtonen held the club off the board to record his fourth shutout of the season. Kovalchuk posted the game winner with a little more than five minutes remaining in the contest before adding an empty-net goal to close out the scoring.
Junior Lessard posted the first shot of the game a few minutes into the opening period. Skating down the right side, Lessard fired off a wrist shot but Lehtonen held on to the puck to stop play.
Martin St. Louis added one of his game-leading six shots of the night moments later, slapping the puck on goal from the left wing circle. Jussi Jokinen crashed towards the net at the opposite wing, getting a piece of the rebound for a back-handed attempt that Lehtonen covered.
Tampa Bay continued posting chances late in the period when Atlanta was called for a bench minor. After blocking a slapshot from the point by Dan Boyle, Lehtonen smothered the puck as St. Louis and Jokinen dug for the rebound.
With seconds ticking off the clock, St. Louis dove for the puck in the slot. Making a pass across to the right faceoff circle, St. Louis found Vincent Lecavalier open for a shot. Lecavalier snapped a one-timed shot but the shot went over the net.
Within the first minute of the second period Vyacheslav Kozlov fed a pass off the left side boards to Kovalchuk in front of the net. The Atlanta winger tried to redirect the open shot at the top of the crease, but goaltender Mike Smith covered the puck to make the save.
Shortly after the attempt Smith dropped down and closed his pads on a shot by Eric Perrin from the left faceoff circle.
At the opposite end of the ice Lehtonen later denied Picard after he fired a shot off the left wing. Within minute Mathieu Darche skated the puck behind the net before throwing a pass out front to Brad Lukowich. The Lightning defenseman jammed a shot on goal, but Lehtonen covered the right post to prevent the score.
Defenseman Matt Smaby checks the Atlanta Thrashers' Colby Armstrong as Armstrong reaches for a loose puck during the first period on Monday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Late in the frame Boyle passed the puck from behind the net to St. Louis, whose shot was denied by a blocker save. As the played turned up the ice, Jim Slater skated hard down the left wing. Slater fired off a shot from the left circle, but Smith made the save and he closed the pads and fell backwards.
Kovalchuk tested Smith a second time after skating down the left side before cutting to the front of the net. Failing to make a solid connection for the shot, the puck fluttered off the heel of Kovalchuk’s stick and towards Smith who covered the attempt to prevent the rebound.
Boyle closed out the period with a shot as the final horn sounded. Flying into the zone, Boyle snapped a shot from the right faceoff dot but Lehtonen got a piece of the puck to keep the game scoreless.
Once again Kovalchuk kicked off a period by skating hard down the right side of the zone for a for a shot. The Thrashers winger popped the shot on goal from the circle, but Smith slid across his crease to make the save.
As the Thrashers skated with the power play, Smith denied a slapshot by Kozlov from the top of the right faceoff circle with a pad save.
Despite the saves, Kovalchuk connected with 5:06 remaining in the game to give Atlanta the lead. After the puck bounced off the back boards, Chris Thorburn sent a pass to Kovalchuk. Snapping a shot from the edge of the slot, Kovalchuk put the puck to left of Smith as he slid through the crease.
As St. Louis looked to tie the score late in the game, Lehtonen smothered the slap shot attempt from the left side boards. The effort wouldn’t be enough for the comeback however, as Kovalchuk scored into an empty net for his team-leading 52nd goal of the season.
Smith stopped 22 of 23 shots in the contest as the Lightning out-shot the Thrashers, 36-24. Smith has allowed one or less goals in three of his previous five games.
The decision dropped Tampa Bay to 2-2-0 through four home games against Atlanta this season. The Lightning will close out their season schedule against the club on Saturday, March 5 at Philips Arena.
Tampa Bay finished 4-1-1 through their final six home games of the season.
Closing out their season schedule, the Lightning will play three road games in four nights beginning with an April 2 (7:00p.m., 620 WDAE) match-up against the Carolina Hurricanes. The game will mark the eighth and final meeting between the clubs.
1 - 0 ATL
2 - 0 ATL
Martin St. Louis
Too many men/ice - bench
Too many men/ice - bench