TAMPA — Think how Steven Stamkos scores goals and you envision the blistering one-timer to which goaltenders can't react.
But the Lightning's star center showed a more subtle skill Saturday night, tipping in two goals, including a huge momentum-shifter in the third period of Tampa Bay's 5-3 season-opening victory over the Thrashers at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"It's just something we've been practicing a lot," Stamkos said. "Pucks go back to the point, get them to the net, and good things happen."
Especially in the third, when Stamkos — with the Lightning having squandered a 4-0 lead built six minutes into the second period and clinging to a 4-3 advantage — tipped in a shot from defenseman Randy Jones with 9:01 left.
"I showed a video of him in training camp, and I told the players that's why he scores 50 goals," said coach Guy Boucher, who won his NHL debut. "He goes into the areas where it hurts, and he makes it happen. He's always there paying the price in front of the goal, and he's battling."
"He's got unbelievable hands," Thrashers goaltender Chris Mason said. "Both of his goals tonight were great."
Tampa Bay will take the win, but Boucher said the team "did not manage the game well" after building its lead on power-play goals from Steve Downie and Vinny Lecavalier, and even-strength goals from Dominic Moore and Stamkos.
Seven penalties — six in the second period — that resulted in six short-handed situations for a combined 10 minutes, 6 seconds, siphoned away the energy.
The result: Tampa Bay had 20 shots in the first period, 16 the rest of the way.
The Lightning killed five of the chances; defenseman Tobias Enstrom scored on a five-on-three to make it 4-1 with 3:49 left in the second. But when wing Chris Thorburn scored 7:41 into the third, it was 4-3.
Who knows what would have happened had Enstrom not hit goaltender Mike Smith in the back with a shot at an open net at 6:06 of the third.
Even so, Boucher said, "We fought through that. We got our structure back, and that's a credit to the guys."
That structure includes forwards getting to the net, which is from where Downie and Moore also scored.
The team practices it often — "We know guys are shooting, and we're crashing," Lecavalier said — and last week Stamkos had a shot skim off his right jaw.
In other words, goals from that spot generally are not pretty.
"They don't ask how, right?" Stamkos said. "On the score sheet it just says we won the game."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Downie 1 (Malone, Clark), 5:23 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Moore 1 (Purcell, Bergenheim), 8:21. Penalties—Atlanta bench, served by Peverley (too many men), 3:39.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 1 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 2:20 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 1 (Hedman, Downie), 5:21. 5, Atlanta, Enstrom 1 (Bergfors, Ladd), 16:31 (pp). 6, Atlanta, Eager 1, 18:12. Penalties—Enstrom, Atl (tripping), 1:21; Clark, TB (interference), 5:48; Thorburn, Atl (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:13; Downie, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:13; Hedman, TB (holding), 8:51; Kubina, TB (interference), 11:27; Hainsey, Atl (holding), 13:42; Hedman, TB (tripping), 15:30; Moore, TB (goaltender interference), 15:48.
Third Period—7, Atlanta, Thorburn 1 (Sopel, Eager), 7:41. 8, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 2 (R.Jones), 10:59. Penalties—Lecavalier, TB (high-sticking), 4:13; Byfuglien, Atl (interference), 14:20; Eager, Atl (roughing), 19:51. Shots on Goal—Atlanta 13-9-8—30. Tampa Bay 20-9-7—36. Power-play opportunities—Atlanta 1 of 6; Tampa Bay 2 of 5. Goalies—Atlanta, Mason 1-1-0 (36 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 1-0-0 (30-27). A—19,791 (19,758). T—2:20. Referees—Chris Rooney, Francois St. Laurent. Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Pierre Racicot.