ATLANTA — With both teams coming off a two-day holiday break, Lightning coach Guy Boucher said he wasn't "expecting something pretty" when it came to Sunday's showdown with the Thrashers.
Pretty it wasn't. But the game was certainly entertaining for the fans, and meaningful for Tampa Bay, which pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory over Atlanta at Philips Arena to remain in first place in the Southeast Division.
As veteran right wing Marty St. Louis said, "it's about finding a way." And partly thanks to two goals by captain Vinny Lecavalier, including the winner 1 minute, 13 seconds into overtime, the Lightning did just that. It was Tampa Bay's ninth straight win over Atlanta.
"It's huge for us," goalie Dan Ellis said. "We're a team that really wants to make a name for ourselves this year. I think the (team) has struggled for a couple years, and this year we really wanted to show that with our new ownership, new general manager, new coaches, everything — all the way down — that we're a real team. We want to be the best team in the league … so we have to play that way every night."
Though Lecavalier acknowledged it took a while for the Lightning to get up to its typical speed after the holiday layoff, the team fought through it and took a one-goal lead into the third period. Lecavalier, who Boucher said has been an "inspiration" for his play, made it 2-1 midway through the second by knocking in a rebound off a Simon Gagne shot.
"They weren't the prettiest goals," Lecavalier said, "but I'll definitely take them."
Tampa Bay (21-10-5) had a chance to take control of the game, putting together several great scoring opportunities, but it failed to cash in. That included two by Sean Bergenheim, who was robbed once by goalie Ondrej Pavelec on a backhand chance on a cross-crease pass from Lecavalier.
But Ellis also delivered another strong performance, making big saves in the third.
That was until Jim Slater got behind the Lightning defense with just under four minutes left in regulation, and former Lightning Freddie Modin pounced on his rebound to help send the game to overtime.
That's when Lecavalier scored on a four-on-three power play, with St. Louis picking up his second assist of the game.
"This team is resilient," St. Louis said. "We find ways sometimes. You can't overanalyze things. You've got to be proud."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 28 (Malone, St. Louis), 8:14. Penalties—None.
Second Period—2, Atlanta, Bogosian 3 (Stewart, Little), 6:03. 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 5 (Gagne, Bergenheim), 9:04. Penalties—Oduya, Atl (tripping), 12:24; Modin, Atl (holding), 14:16; Malone, TB (hooking), 19:34.
Third Period—4, Atlanta, Modin 7 (Slater, Eager), 16:17. Penalties—Enstrom, Atl (hooking), :23; Enstrom, Atl, double minor (high-sticking), 10:47; Bergenheim, TB (interference), 11:06; Hedman, TB (delay of game), 18:47; Byfuglien, Atl (boarding), 19:49.
Overtime—5, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 6 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 1:13 (pp). Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 11-13-9-1—34. Atlanta 6-11-9-2—28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 6; Atlanta 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Ellis 11-5-5 (28 shots-26 saves). Atlanta, Pavelec 12-7-4 (34-31). A—14,610 (18,545). T—2:32.