ATLANTA — It would have been easy for Lightning coach Rick Tocchet to start Karri Ramo in net Sunday against the Thrashers.
Mike Smith had made nine straight starts, the longest stretch of his career, and his previous two had not met Smith's high standards. It also was the second game of a back-to-back.
But goaltending is as much a mind game as a physical one. And as Tocchet said, "I wanted (Smith) to realize we appreciate what he's done."
Smith, who has been Tampa Bay's saving grace this season, returned the favor, making 27 saves in a 4-1 victory at Philips Arena to start a five-game road trip and push the Lightning past the Thrashers into fourth in the Southeast.
"They're giving me an opportunity to play, especially after a game where I wasn't at my best," Smith said. "That shows the kind of confidence they have in me. When you get that opportunity, you like to go out and show them you can respond."
Tampa Bay (11-18-10), which snapped an 0-2-1 streak and 0-3-3 streak in Atlanta, got good responses all around the rink.
Right wing Marty St. Louis' two goals gave him 15 overall and five and 12 points in his past eight games. Ryan Malone scored his 10th and Steve Eminger his third, tops among Lightning defensemen.
There also was a heartbeat from the power play that entered on a 5-for-56 streak but converted twice, though not always with the usual suspects.
On the first, Tocchet sat the MVP line of center Vinny Lecavalier, St. Louis and Vinny Prospal. Eminger, with assists from Jussi Jokinen and Adam Hall, scored for a 1-0 lead 2:48 into the game.
"I think they need a little mental break," Tocchet said. "I honestly went with whoever was up. Whoever is up is going to play the power play. We got two power-play goals out of it; maybe because guys are fresher, maybe because they're more in tune on the bench. We're going to do that and see how it goes for a little bit."
"Obviously, we haven't scored on the power play," St. Louis said, "so, you know, it is what it is."
St. Louis capitalized with 3:40 left in the second with a redirect of Lecavalier's perfect pass. He got his 15th goal 1:00 into the third, on the power play for a 3-0 lead, off Prospal's pinpoint feed from behind the net.
But the game belonged to Smith, who is 4-4-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in his 10-game streak, including a 7-4 loss Thursday at Washington.
"The Washington game, I'd like to have back," he said. "But the beautiful thing about this game is there's a game the next day. I thought I played better (in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes), but I felt really good today."
The only shot he didn't handle was Erik Christensen's poke that slipped through his legs with 21.9 seconds left.
"It didn't really matter," Smith said. "You like to have those numbers, but they're just little bonuses. The best thing is we played well as a team and got a big win to go on the road."
Which everyone surely appreciated.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Eminger 3 (Jokinen, Hall), 2:48 (pp). Penalties—Schneider, Atl (hooking), 1:54.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 14 (Lecavalier, Prospal), 16:20. Penalties—Thorburn, Atl (holding), 3:57; Smaby, TB (hooking), 9:47; Enstrom, Atl (tripping), 19:56.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 15 (Prospal, Eminger), 1:00 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Malone 10 (Halpern, Mihalik), 18:16. 5, Atlanta, Christensen 2 (Slater, Boulton), 19:38. Penalties—Craig, TB (holding), 8:21; Schneider, Atl (hooking), 10:21; Artyukhin, TB (roughing), 13:14; Thorburn, Atl (roughing), 13:14. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 13-10-12—35. Atlanta 7-11-10—28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 4; Atlanta 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 9-14-9 (28 shots-27 saves). Atlanta, Lehtonen 4-9-2 (35-31). A—10,750 (18,545).