The Tampa Bay Lightning finally caught the right side of overtime tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers to gain their first victory of the season in front of a crowd of 13,922 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
An extra five minutes of overtime has become the norm for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season as a Thrasher goal with just seconds remaining in the contest sent Tampa Bay into their fourth straight overtime period.
The Lightning broke out like they meant business as the game got underway. Adam Hall had a good scoring opportunity less than two minutes into the first period, and Tampa Bay continued to keep the Thrashers scrambling, preventing Atlanta from getting a shot on net until nine minutes into the game.
The Lightning broke through to start the scoring at 12:42 of the period when Mark Recchi corralled a pinpoint break out pass from Radim Vrbata and blasted a shot from left faceoff circle which eluded Atalanta netminder Kari Lehtonen and caught the top shelf of the Thrasher net. Janne Niskala also was credited with an assist. The goal was Recchi’s second of the season.
Despite generating only five shots in period one, the Thrashers were able to produce two outstanding scoring opportunities, but Mike Smith, picking up from where he left off when he shut out Minnesota on Saturday night, denied them both. With Colby Armstrong off the ice for high-sticking, Vyacheslav Kozlov skated in alone on Smith for a short-handed attempt and then, just moments later, Smith dove across the crease to stop Erik Christensen’s tip-in attempt.
The Lightning skated into the locker room after period one in possession of a 1-0 lead, having outshot the Thrashers 18-5 and outhit them 10-4.
Tampa Bay widened their advantage in the second period when Vaclav Prospal scored his second goal of the season with 13:10 gone in the period. He was assisted by Mike Lundin and Marty St. Louis. For St. Louis, the point was a milestone, his 300th career NHL assist.
Atlanta picked up the pace throughout the second, but despite producing 13 shots on net they were unable to solve Mike Smith, who came up big time after time. With Paul Ranger in the penalty box for interference, his third penalty of the period, and 15 seconds remaining in the stanza, Smith was tested by Todd White from close-in, but denied the power play attempt.
The Thrashers kept the Lightning on the defensive throughout the third period as they frantically battled for shots and scoring opportunities. Atlanta tightened the score to a 1 goal Lightning advantage when they got on the scoreboard with 6:37 gone in the third as Colby Armstrong feathered a shot under Smith’s pad. The goal stopped Mike Smith’s shutout streak.
The Thrashers continued to apply the pressure as the third period progressed, and with Lehtonen off the ice for an extra skater, Todd White’s shot found the net behind Smith to knot the score with 36 seconds remaining to play.
“I didn’t feel very good when that goal was scored,” Mike Smith said after the game.
The suspense did not last long, however, as Atlanta forward Bryan Little was called for tripping at 1:41 of overtime and 30 seconds later Vincent Lecavalier converted a pass from Marty St. Louis and notched his third goal of the season to give Coach Barry Melrose his first coaching victory since April 6, 1995.
“Tonight was important for us because the guy’s battled and didn’t quit,” Melrose said. “Most of the game we played really well and the most positive thing was coming back and winning after giving up a 2-0 lead.”
The Lightning gathered their fifth point of the season and will be trying to keep the momentum going as they close out the home-stand Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks.