ATLANTA — Steven Stamkos had no real explanation why the Thrashers have become his personal chew toy, so he attributed it to a higher power.
"It's just one of those things when the hockey gods are on your side against certain teams," he said.
The Lightning's star center was at it again during Thursday night's 3-2 shootout victory at Philips Arena with two goals, including the tying tally 32 seconds into the third period.
Stamkos has a league-best 37 goals and six over his past four games. But more startling are his 15 goals and 25 points in 15 games against the Thrashers, whom Tampa Bay has beaten 10 straight times, six straight in Atlanta.
It was the second straight win via four-round shootout for the Lightning (28-15-5), which maintained first place in the Southeast Division and moved into second in the East.
But unlike Tuesday's clunky decision over the Blue Jackets in which it won almost in spite of itself, the victory over the Thrashers was, as goaltender Dwayne Roloson put it, "intellectual."
That is because Atlanta, with 26 takeaways, took away time and space with four and five defenders crowding shooting lanes. That meant getting to the net, from where Stamkos scored twice, imperative.
"You can't get frustrated in games like this," Stamkos said. "You have to get opportunistic and get bounces."
"He wants to fight to get ugly goals," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "If he was only trying to get the pretty ones and perimeter goals, he wouldn't even be close to this. That's where plenty of my respect comes from."
Stamkos, with eight goals in five games this season against the Thrashers, made it 1-1 with 2:47 left in the first period when a bouncing puck off a scramble in front of the net hit him and deflected in.
The tying goal came off an extreme angle with the shot going over goalie Ondrej Pavelec's pad and under the crossbar after Pavel Kubina's shot from the blue line was wide off the end boards.
Roloson, with 27 saves, preserved the tie in overtime by disrupting Dustin Byfuglien's breakaway with what he called a "do-or-die" poke check. And Adam Hall and Dominic Moore scored in a shootout Tampa Bay won 2-1 on Moore's sick deke of Pavelec.
"He took the first fake," said Moore, in only his third shootout and first since November 2005 while with the Rangers. "I got lucky."
"That's the way we have to do it if we're going to be there at the end of the season," Hall said. "There are no easy games. You have to fight and claw, tooth and nail."
And have the hockey gods on your side, too.
|Lightning wins shootout 2-1|
First Period—1, Atlanta, Bergfors 10 (Meyer, Dawes), 5:26. 2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 36, 17:13. Penalties—None.
Second Period—3, Atlanta, Stewart 11 (Antropov, Sopel), 14:12 (pp). Penalties—Moore, TB (roughing), 11:40; Boulton, Atl (roughing), 11:40; Ohlund, TB (holding), 13:38.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 37 (Downie, Kubina), :32. Penalties—Byfuglien, Atl (tripping), 1:01; Cormier, Atl (holding), 7:44.
Overtime—None. Penalties—Kubina, TB (holding), 4:49.
Shootout—Tampa Bay 2 (Hedman NG, Hall G, Malone NG, Moore G), Atlanta 1 (Little G, Burmistrov NG, Ladd NG, Dawes NG). Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-9-12-1—31. Atlanta 12-10-5-2—29. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Atlanta 1 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Roloson 11-16-1 (29 shots-27 saves). Atlanta, Pavelec 16-11-6 (31-29). A—12,314 (18,545).