TAMPA — For the Lightning, experience proved to be a pretty good teacher.
Tied 2-2 entering the final period on Saturday against Southeast Division rival Atlanta, the Lightning came out with far more passion than it showed in the same situation a few days ago. And the result was far different — a 4-3 win at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"We talked about that between periods; to come out with a little more fire, a little more jump in our step, in the third period," goaltender Mike Smith said.
Or as star center Vinny Lecavalier said, "Go after them."
The Lightning did just that. After killing off a power play to begin the third, the Lightning (14-15-4) struck quickly. Lecavalier found wing Steve Downie open on the right, who patiently held the puck waiting for left wing Alex Tanguay to rush ahead in perfect position for an easy shot and 3-2 lead 5:04 in.
Just 1:40 later, left wing Ryan Malone scored his 19th goal to put Tampa comfortably ahead.
"We held back a little the other night, and (Saturday) we were more aggressive," said Lecavalier, who had a season-high three assists.
Lest anyone had forgotten, the Lightning was tied 2-2 with Philadelphia on Wednesday after two periods but allowed three unanswered goals. Not a good way to begin a five-game homestand. That performance prompted center Zenon Konopka to sternly call out his teammates, saying their play was "unacceptable."
Although Nik Antropov scored on a follow-up shot midway through the opening period to give the Thrashers a 1-0 lead, the Lightning answered quickly.
Lecavalier tenaciously dug the puck out of the crease and created a chance for Downie, who moved up to the second line in the wake of recent injuries. He put it by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to tie the score.
"He took two guys in front, and Downie gets the loose puck and scores," coach Rick Tocchet said. "If he's on the side of the net, Downie probably doesn't get a rebound. That's how you inspire people when you play between the dots. You might take a cross check. You might take hits. But somebody else gets the goal, and that was a perfect example of that. That goes a long way."
But as it has in other games, the Lightning didn't maintain control and had to hang on for the win as the Thrashers scored in the waning moments and furiously tried to force overtime.
"You try to learn from your past experiences," Tocchet said. "When it happens too often, you've got to do something to change it. Tonight, the players figured they've got to do something about it."
First Period—1, Atlanta, Antropov 10 (Kovalchuk, Afinogenov), 11:48. 2, Tampa Bay, Downie 7 (Lecavalier, Ohlund), 13:34. Penalties—Kane, Atl (hooking), 9:16; Wright, TB (tripping), 16:10.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Lundin 1 (Lecavalier), 4:44. 4, Atlanta, Reasoner 3 (Hainsey, Bogosian), 16:54. Penalties—Little, Atl (roughing), 9:17; Hedman, TB (roughing), 9:17; Stamkos, TB (hooking), 13:59; Downie, TB (roughing), 20:00.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Tanguay 5 (Downie, Lecavalier), 5:04. 6, Tampa Bay, Malone 19 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 6:45. 7, Atlanta, Kovalchuk 22 (Antropov, Bogosian), 16:50. Penalties—Boulton, Atl (roughing), 11:36; Valabik, Atl, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 11:36; Hale, TB (roughing), 11:36; Konopka, TB (roughing), 11:36; Wright, TB, major (fighting), 11:36. Shots on Goal—Atlanta 6-15-6—27. Tampa Bay 14-13-7—34. Power-play opportunities—Atlanta 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 1. Goalies—Atlanta, Pavelec 9-10-3 (34 shots-30 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 7-10-5 (27-24). A—15,437 (19,758).