ATLANTA — Antero Niittymaki knew there was someone in the Lightning locker room he had to thank, but didn't know where to start.
The goaltender earned a 2-1 victory Tuesday night at Philips Arena to run his improbable record against the Thrashers to 16-0-0.
But there was one save, with three seconds left in the second period, Niittymaki did not make. Rather, it was defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who stopped Pavel Kubina's shot with Niittymaki down and out of position after making a save.
"It was Mez?" Niittymaki said of the save that preserved the 2-1 lead. "I know it didn't hit me. I'll take it."
So will Tampa Bay (23-21-11), which was dominated in terms of puck possession, but blocked 22 shots to add to Niittymaki's 26 saves to hang on after first-period goals by Stephane Veilleux and Marty St. Louis built a 2-0 lead.
"It was huge," Niittymaki said of the win that elevated the Lightning, with 57 points, into a tie for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"A gutty win," coach Rick Tocchet said, "because a lot of things could have went wrong."
What went right was Niittymaki, whose streak against the Thrashers is the second longest active by a goalie against an opponent behind Chris Osgood's 17-0-0 against Tampa Bay.
There was the save on Maxim Afinogenov's breakaway 5:20 into the game after Meszaros coughed up the puck. There were stunning bang-bang saves on Nik Antropov and Rich Peverley at the end of Atlanta's second-period five-on-three.
And stopping Ilya Kovalchuk's spin-o-rama from the slot early in the third was no picnic either.
"An amazing record," Tocchet said of Niittymaki's streak against Atlanta. "There must be some rich guys in Vegas or something. That's incredible."
"The last few games against these guys I haven't thought about the streak at all," Niittymaki said. "You know it's there, but this was a huge game for the team. I use that for motivation other than the personal thing."
More good stuff for Tampa Bay included St. Louis' 17th goal that made the score 2-0 with 7:17 left in the first period after puck-on-a-string passing among he and linemates Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie.
Tocchet called the 22 blocked shots, which gave the team 46 in its past two games, "desperate, passion, playoff hockey."
Meszaros was in the right place (in front of the net) at the right time (as Kubina shot).
"It hit my leg," Meszaros said.
Niittymaki took it from there.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Veilleux 3 (Tanguay, Lecavalier), 9:37. 2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 17 (Stamkos, Downie), 12:43. Penalty—Atlanta bench, served by Antropov (too many men), 17:35.
Second Period—3, Atlanta, White 5 (Popovic, Afinogenov), 2:46. Penalties—Veilleux, TB (hooking), 5:21; Tampa Bay bench, served by Fedoruk (too many men), 6:54; Bogosian, Atl (holding), 13:36; Kubina, Atl (holding), 17:44.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (tripping), 8:44; Downie, TB (roughing), 11:46; Kane, Atl (roughing), 11:46. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-6-11—24. Atlanta 7-11-9—27. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Atlanta 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 13-9-5 (27 shots-26 saves). Atlanta, Pavelec 12-14-4 (24-22). A—11,390 (18,545). T—2:19. Referees—Wes McCauley, Ian Walsh. Linesmen—Scott Driscoll, Don Henderson.