TAMPA — Sometimes it's a matter of skill. Sometimes it's a matter of will. Sometimes it's a matter of a fortuitous bounce.
And sometimes it's a matter of all three coming together on one play.
That's what Lightning forward Marty St. Louis showed on a game-changing goal that helped his team beat the Thrashers 6-2 Saturday night to snap a five-game skid before a raucous crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum that included new owner Jeff Vinik.
The Lightning (27-26-11) desperately needed to right itself after falling into 11th place in the East standings, three points behind Southern Division rival Atlanta, which held the eighth, and final, playoff spot. But the Thrashers scored 3:22 into the first period to take a 1-0 lead.
Enter St. Louis, who blended singular brilliance and relentlessness with a bit of luck.
He reached back to control a pass from center Steven Stamkos that caromed off the boards, wheeled around to speed down the ice and, while going down, nudged the puck and saw it go off defenseman Johnny Oduya's skate and by goaltender Johan Hedberg for the equalizer at 8:47.
Suddenly, everything was different. Stamkos, who now has at least one point in a league-high 16 consecutive games, followed with a power-play goal, and wing Paul Szczechura, called up Saturday from AHL Norfolk, made it 3-1 with a goal to cap off a frenetic opening period.
The Thrashers narrowed their deficit to 3-2 on right wing Colby Armstrong's goal with 6:23 left in the second. But then recently acquired right wing Teddy Purcell was taken down by former Lightning star Pavel Kubina on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot, which he converted for his first goal as a member of the Lightning to maintain a two-goal margin after two.
Although it had faltered badly in the final period in its two losses since the Olympic break ended, the Lightning didn't let up on this night. Center Vinny Lecavalier scored off assists from St. Louis (his second of the game) and Purcell at the 4:01 mark to pad the lead.
That was more than enough for a defense anchored by goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who improved his career record against Atlanta to 17-0-0, including 4-0 this season.
But the Lightning continued to show fight. When Atlanta wing Clarke MacArthur leveled St. Louis with about eight minutes left, Lightning wing Steve Downie jumped in to stick up for his linemate. Soon both teams were at it, except for the goaltenders and St. Louis, who was down on the ice for several minutes before he skated off. Stamkos followed moments later with another goal, his 40th of the season.
St. Louis didn't return to the game but afterward seemed fine. He said he'll be evaluated again today.
First Period—1, Atlanta, Bergfors 19 (Little, Antropov), 3:22. 2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 23 (Stamkos, Downie), 8:47. 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 39 (Foster, St. Louis), 13:06 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Szczechura 3 (Bochenski, Tanguay), 17:00. Penalties—Szczechura, TB (tripping), 5:33; Oduya, Atl (slashing), 11:37; Antropov, Atl (delay of game), 13:38; Little, Atl (tripping), 17:31.
Second Period—5, Atlanta, Armstrong 11 (Artyukhin, Peverley), 13:37. 6, Tampa Bay, Purcell 4 (penalty shot), 16:36. Penalties—Parrish, TB (hooking), 2:45; Meszaros, TB (tripping), 6:24; Purcell, TB (tripping), 13:57; Afinogenov, Atl (slashing), 16:36.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 18 (St. Louis, Purcell), 4:01. 8, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 40 (Szczechura, Bochenski), 16:19. Penalties—St. Louis, TB (hooking), 4:37; Kubina, Atl (roughing), 12:14; Thorburn, Atl (roughing), 12:14; Downie, TB, double minor-misconduct (roughing), 12:14; Thorburn, Atl, major (fighting), 18:05; Walker, TB, major (fighting), 18:05. Shots on Goal—Atlanta 10-13-8—31. Tampa Bay 14-11-5—30. Power-play opportunities—Atlanta 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 1 of 4. Goalies—Atlanta, Hedberg 16-10-5 (30 shots-24 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 17-11-5 (31-29). A—19,926 (19,758).