TAMPA — Marty St. Louis won a battle along the right-wing boards and held the puck long enough to let Vinny Lecavalier find time and space.
The pass into the slot was perfect, as was Lecavalier's shot — crisp and into the net — and just like that, a game that had gone so wrong was one players hope will help make things right.
The Lightning beat the Thrashers 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum for its first victory of the season. It also was coach Barry Melrose's first victory since April 6, 1995, when he ran the Kings.
"Hopefully, that's a big monkey off our back," goaltender Mike Smith said.
The Lightning (1-2-3) hopes it also signals the re-emergence of the MVP line. Lecavalier's goal, his team-high third, 1:41 into the extra period was the winner, St. Louis had two assists, and Vinny Prospal's second-period goal gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.
It was a nice pick-me-up for a squad that entered with just eight goals and again leaned heavily on Smith, who was in fine form with 31 saves, to help hold things together.
"I thought it was a great step in the right direction for our line," St. Louis said. "Scoring goals and helping your team win, that alone will get you going. You get the win, you start feeling good, and you roll with it. Hopefully, this game is a stepping-stone for what's coming."
Not that Tampa Bay should get too cocky. There were plenty of bumps as the team tied club records with its sixth straight one-goal game and fourth straight in overtime.
It gave up a two-goal lead with 14 minutes left in the third as Colby Armstrong scored 6:37 into the period and Todd White's tip-in tied it 2-2 with 35.5 seconds remaining.
And though the Lightning outshot Atlanta 38-33, Tampa Bay was outshot 28-20 after building an 18-5 advantage in the first period and a 1-0 lead on Mark Recchi's goal.
Melrose, who spent the past 12 years as an ESPN analyst and said he would have enjoyed "an easier one" with which to get back in the win column, blamed a five-game winless streak to start the season for causing sticks to be gripped too tightly and players to be on their heels.
"That's why this is important, because we have to get success," he said. "It's the old saying, 'What comes first, success or confidence?' The last couple of minutes, not a lot of guys wanted the puck, so we've got to change that culture. Guys have to want the puck and have to be aggressive, and you have to battle when the game is on the line."
Like the rest of the team, the MVP line has work to do.
It still spends too much time running around in its end, and though Lecavalier scored with a man advantage, the power play, which counts so much on that line to make it go, is 3-for-30.
"It's been a frustrating way to start the year, especially when your team is losing," St. Louis said. "You need it, and you're counted on and haven't provided yet. Getting the reward, getting the result, getting the big win for this team, we just want to build on that and be part of it."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Recchi 2 (Vrbata, Niskala), 7:18. Penalties—Little, Atl (interference), 11:43; Armstrong, Atl (high-sticking), 13:39.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Prospal 2 (Lundin, St. Louis), 13:10. Penalties—Bogosian, Atl (hooking), 2:07; Ranger, TB (tripping), 2:21; Ranger, TB (holding), 6:23; Ranger, TB (interference), 18:30.
Third Period—3, Atlanta, Armstrong 2 (White), 6:37. 4, Atlanta, White 2 (Schneider, Hainsey), 19:24. Penalty—White, Atl (hooking), 11:40.
Overtime—5, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 3 (St. Louis, Ranger), 1:41 (pp). Penalty—Little, Atl (tripping), 1:11. Shots on Goal—Atlanta 5-13-15-0—33. Tampa Bay 18-10-8-2—38. Power-play opportunities—Atlanta 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 5. Goalies—Atlanta, Lehtonen 2-2-2 (38 shots-35 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 1-1-2 (33-31). A—13,922 (19,758).