ATLANTA — Lightning coach Guy Boucher spent much of Friday morning meeting with his players, imploring — make that demanding — that they be more assertive at both ends of the ice from the opening minutes against the Thrashers that night.
Not doing that, he said, had cost them the night before and couldn't remain the team's M.O.
"The one focus we had was we were going to play a five-minute game," Boucher said. "We were going to play the first five minutes as if this were a playoff game, a seventh game, the last five minutes to win the championship."
And on this night, the Lightning showed no signs of early tentativeness and plenty of relentlessness from the start, scoring three first-period goals in a 5-2 win at Philips Arena, keyed by the play of centers Vinny Lecavalier (a goal and an assist) and Steven Stamkos (a hat trick and an assist).
The Lightning (5-1-1) moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with 11 points.
"That was our theme tonight, really come out the first five, 10 minutes and set the tone for the game, and we did that," said Lecavalier, who scored his first goal since the season-opening win against the Thrashers.
Unlike in Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders, the Lightning imposed its will on its Southeast Division rivals immediately. It got a power-play goal from defenseman Brett Clark 3:10 in, its quickest goal this season.
Lecavalier, showing no apparent ill effects from a knuckle injury that sidelined him for a game this week, made it 2-0 at 16:05 when he fired a shot off the skate of a Thrasher.
"Our captain set the tone," Boucher said.
Stamkos, off an assist from Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, added the first of his three goals on a power play moments later for a 3-0 lead. The Lightning hadn't scored more than twice in a period this year.
"That was pretty much all we talked about in our pregame chats with (Boucher)," Stamkos said of the slow starts. "It's kind of been our Achilles' heel."
Atlanta (3-4-0) pulled goalie Chris Mason, who had played all but two minutes of its first six games, and turned to Peter Mannino (three career NHL games) to start the second. It gave the sparse announced crowd of 9,183 something to cheer when center Jim Slater scored his first goal of the season to cut its deficit to 3-1 at 8:07.
But Lightning goalie Mike Smith continued to swat shots away, as did the team's penalty-killing units. Atlanta was 1-for-8 on the power play, and that goal didn't come until 13:36 of the final period.
First Period—1, TB, Clark 2 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 3:10 (pp). 2, TB, Lecavalier 2 (Bergenheim), 16:05. 3, TB, Stamkos 6 (Lecavalier, St. Louis), 17:50 (pp). Penalties—Lecavalier, TB (roughing), 2:42; Eager, Atl (cross-checking, roughing), 2:42; Slater, Atl (tripping), 2:53; Sopel, Atl (high-sticking), 5:50; Tyrell, TB (high-sticking), 10:18; Smaby, TB (tripping), 13:23; Moore, TB (diving), 14:04; Burmistrov, Atl (interference), 16:51; St. Louis, TB (hooking), 19:56.
Second Period—4, Atlanta, Slater 1 (Ladd, Byfuglien), 8:07. 5, TB, Stamkos 7, 17:22. Penalties—St. Louis, TB (interference), 9:57; Smith, TB, served by Purcell (tripping), 15:05.
Third Period—6, Atlanta, Byfuglien 2, 13:36 (pp). 7, TB, Stamkos 8 (Hedman, Hall), 19:28 (en). Penalties—Downie, TB, minor-misconduct (roughing), 4:27; Eager, Atl, misconduct, 4:27; Thorburn, Atl (roughing), 4:27; Burmistrov, Atl (high-sticking), 4:27; Purcell, TB, double minor (high-sticking), 10:16; Sopel, Atl (cross-checking), 14:53. Shots on Goal—TB 16-10-7—33. Atlanta 10-14-6—30. Power-play opportunities—TB 2 of 6; Atlanta 1 of 8. Goalies—TB, Smith 4-0-0 (30 shots-28 saves). Atlanta, Mason 3-4-0 (16-13), Mannino (0:00 second, 16-15). A—9,138 (18,545).