ATLANTA (AP) -- Through 82 games last season, Tampa Bay was two
points better than Atlanta in the race for the final playoff spot
in the Eastern Conference.
Only one game into a new season, the Lightning already have
claimed another advantage over the Thrashers in the Southeast
Vincent Lecavalier scored the only goal in a shootout and Marc
Denis shut out Atlanta after the opening period as Tampa Bay
rallied for a 3-2 victory Thursday night.
Second-year center Ryan Craig scored Tampa Bay's first two
goals, including a game-tying shot about two minutes into the third
"It's nice to get the two goals, but the two points are
better," Craig said of the win.
Denis, who came to Tampa Bay in a trade with Columbus, struggled
in the opening period, allowing two goals on six shots. He was
perfect the rest of the way.
"He made some big saves," Lecavalier said. "The three guys
they had in the shootout are really good."
"You can't ever get down when you are down a few goals," Denis
said of Atlanta's 2-0 lead after the first period. "Goals are
going to come in this league. You have to stay after it."
Each team was called for eight penalties, all minors.
"We understand we have a penalty problem," Denis said. "If we
can stay out of the box, we'll be OK."
Lecavalier, the first shooter for the Lightning in the shootout,
beat Kari Lehtonen with a shot to the right edge of the net.
"I went high," Lecavalier said. "I tried to get him down, and
I put it as high as I could."
Added Lecavalier of the 6-foot-4 Lehtonen: "When you look at
him, you don't know where to shoot, he's so big."
Brad Richards was stopped by Lehtonen on Tampa Bay's second and
final shot of the shootout.
Lehtonen, limited by injuries to only 38 games last season,
proved his return to health by stopping 24 shots through overtime.
"I was really disappointed," Mellanby said. "We were
prepared. I thought we came out and had them on their heels."
The Thrashers' 11 shots tied the team record for fewest in a
game set on Feb. 21, 2002 at St. Louis. It was the lowest shot
total at home in club history.
Lehtonen's 2005-06 troubles began when he suffered his first
groin injury in the first period of the season opener. He survived
the whole game Thursday night.
Atlanta, which led the league with 58 power-play goals last
season, was back in business with the advantage early. Mellanby's
first goal on a slap shot came only nine seconds after Tampa Bay's
Nikita Alexeev drew a minor penalty for hooking.
Mellanby tipped in a pass from Hossa for the goal. The delicate
shot was hit with so little force it barely reached the back of the
Less than six minutes later, the Thrashers took advantage of a
5-on-3 advantage by patiently making several passes before Hossa
took a pass from Mellanby across the front of the net and scored
from the right edge for a 2-0 lead with about seven minutes left in
Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said his players "cheated
themselves tonight" by blowing the 2-0 lead.
"We had a great camp," Hartley said. "Those guys are in great
shape. Why we stopped skating, I'll have to look at the tape and
figure out some answers."
Atlanta's early patience developed into too much passing in the
second and third periods.
"We were passing a bit too much and began to run around,"
Mellanby said. "They've got a lot of experience with guys that won
a Stanley Cup, and they really smothered us."
The Lightning answered with a power-play goal four minutes into
the second period. Craig tipped in Richards' long shot from between
Thrashers D Braydon Coburn opened the season on the injured
list after hurting his shoulder in a preseason game at St. Louis on
Sept. 24. ... The Lightning won last season's series with the
Thrashers 4-3-1. ... Atlanta faces Southeast Division opponents in
nine of its first 10 games. ... Craig tied for the Tampa Bay lead
with eight points in the preseason. ... Thrashers D Steve McCarthy
had two assists.