<
>

Atlanta's playoff hopes take a hit in loss to Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Dmitry Afanasenkov and the Tampa Bay
Lightning made a big playoff push Thursday night -- at the Atlanta
Thrashers' expense.

Afanasenkov scored two goals to help the Lightning beat the
Thrashers 4-3 on Thursday night, leaving ninth-place Atlanta seven
points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 10
games left.

With the victory, Tampa Bay remained tied with New Jersey and
Montreal for sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 83 points.
On Thursday night, New Jersey beat Buffalo 3-1 and Montreal edged
Washington 3-2 in overtime.

"Right now, time is running out," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley
said. "We don't have any points to give to anyone. We will need
some great performances from everyone."

Tim Taylor and Paul Ranger also scored for the Lightning. Taylor
snapped a 28-game goal-scoring drought, and Ranger's goal was the
first of his 67-game NHL career.

Tampa Bay goalie John Grahame's bid for his third shutout
against Atlanta this season ended when Steve McCarthy scored from
the blue line with 9:16 left. Vyacheslav Kozlov and Bobby Holik
added goals for the Thrashers in the final 2 minutes.

"We have to take care of our business," Kozlov said. "We have
to play much better and we have to win our games. Then we'll see
what happens."

Tampa Bay played without defensemen Dan Boyle (ankle) and Pavel
Kubina (lower body), and left winger Fredrik Modin, second on the
team with 29 goals, also sat out because of a groin injury.

"We're going through a tough time here with injuries,"
Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "This situation, things
piled up. Three main guys on our team all together. I really
respect how our team stayed together and played a game as a team."

Kari Lehtonen made 29 saves for the Thrashers.

Afanasenkov, who had the second multigoal game of his career,
put the Lightning ahead 1-0 from the low left circle at 6:07 of the
first.

The Lightning went ahead 2-0 on Afanasenkov's rebound power-play
goal at 16:24 of the second, and Taylor gave Tampa Bay a three-goal
lead 27 seconds later.

Tampa Bay had the first four power plays. Atlanta, which entered
with the NHL's second-best road power play, got its only chance
with 2:18 left in the second.

Ranger made it 4-0 with 11:56 to go. After Kozlov scored with
1:39 remaining, Holik got Atlanta to 4-3 at 19:08.

"They came at us the whole game," Atlanta defenseman Greg de
Vries said. "The only reason we came back at the end is because
they finally sat back and tried to protect the lead, and that's
when they got in trouble."

Grahame made 19 saves.

"I don't like finishing a game that way," Tortorella said.
"I'm not getting on my team at all. They played hard. They played
really well."

Game notes
Lightning G Sean Burke served as the backup after missing
the previous six games with a broken finger. ... Richards picked up
two assists and has a career-high 81 points. He has 12 assists and
14 points during a seven-game point streak. ... Lehtonen appeared
in his 24th consecutive game, which set a team record for goalies.
Pasi Nurminen played in 23 straight games in 2004. ... Tampa Bay
sent G Gerald Coleman to Springfield of the AHL. ... Lightning LW
Chris Dingman assisted on Taylor's goal for his first point in 37
games.