Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to matter, at the end of the night, what the stats say; the only numbers that count are on the scoreboard.
That was the lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, as they lost to the Atlanta Thrashers by a 3-1 margin, despite outshooting the visiting Thrashers by 17 shots on goal and outhitting the Thrashers by nine.
But the game turned more on what the Lightning didn’t do than what they did. The Tampa Bay power play went 0-5, including almost one minute of 5-on-3 opportunity, while allowing a shorthanded goal to Atlanta.
Additionally, Steven Stamkos was awarded the first penalty shot, and despite however many will come his way in the course of his NHL career, it’s reasonable to assume that none will be as controversial as his initial opportunity tonight, which was ruled to be no-goal.
Tampa Bay opened the first period aggressively, with Vaclav Prospal taking the first shot of the game, from just outside the Atlanta goal crease, 1:10 into the contest. Kari Lehtonen, the Atlanta netminder, made the save, but couldn’t corral the second shot on net, a tip-in from Gary Roberts on a Steve Downie pass across the crease just 14 seconds later. The goal was Robert’s fourth of the year and his second in two games. Steven Stamkos also picked up an assist on the score.
Atlanta evened the score, 1-1, while skating shorthanded at 9:52 of the first period. Atlanta forward Colin Stuart picked up a pass and broke in from the right boards. His wrist shot crossed into the Lightning net to the left of goaltender Mike McKenna. The score ended Mckenna’s shutout streak at 69 minutes and 52 seconds.
The Thrashers scored on their first shot on goal in the second period, at 2:02, when Vyacheslav Kozlov got behind the Tampa Bay defense and converted a centering pass to put Atlanta in the lead, 2-1.
The Lightning played with desperation in the third period, keeping the Thrasher without a shot on net until over nine minutes had elapsed in the period and eventually compiling a 17 – 7 shot advantage.
But despite the urgency of the situation, Tampa Bay was never able to solve Lehtonen, who finished with 40 saves for the night.
At 11:51, Steven Stamkos was pulled down from behind as he broke in alone on the Atlanta net. The call resulted in a penalty shot, during which Stamkos deked to his backhand and shot the puck into Lehtonen’s outstretched glove. The official on ice signaled “no-goal” but reviews from the overhead angle seemed to indicate that the netminder’s glove, with the puck inside, had slipped over the goal line. After a review, the call on the ice was upheld.
Although disappointed, Stamkos understood the why the call wasn’t reversed.
“When you look at the replay, you have to be able to see the whole puck,” Stamkos said. “You can’t see the puck although I know it was in his glove and you know it’s over the line.”
With McKenna off the ice for an extra attacker at 19:50, Atlanta forward Ilya Kovalchuk put the puck into the empty Lightning net to make the final score 3-1.
With the loss, Tampa Bay’s record on the current crucial six-game homestand equals at 1-1, with the Toronto Maple Leafs next to visit the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday. No matter what the stats say at the conclusion of that game, the Lightning hope the scoreboard tells a more positive tale.
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